STEUBENVILLE - An official from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Cleveland field office reviewed the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority's policies and regulations before meeting in a 23-minute executive session with the authority's board of commissioners Wednesday afternoon.
Jimmy Davis, a public housing revitalization specialist, said he could not publicly discuss the contents of the report he will submit to the Cleveland office but did note he will make several recommendations.
JMHA Executive Director Joe Costantini said the executive session, "was necessary to discuss issues that are required by HUD to be kept confidential."
Costantini also announced during the special meeting he will be sitting down with city officials twice a month starting Monday, "to exchange information to remedy problems."
Davis said those meetings, "are the first step. This will be a work in progress and can be fine-tuned as you move forward."
Davis said he reviewed the JMHA policies and regulations following a request from U.S. Rep Bill Johnson, R- Marietta, for an investigation into alleged criminal activity in public housing units in Jefferson County.
Johnson filed his request with the HUD offices in Washington, D.C., on June 26.
"The Cleveland field office sent Mr. Davis to determine if we are in compliance. He will submit a report to the field office and we will receive a copy at some point. I have always believed our policies are within the federal guidelines," Costantini said after Davis left the meeting.
Johnson's June 26 letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan also cited Costantini's concerns, "over certain statutes, regulations and policies, "he sees inhibiting the agency's, "ability to deter the incidence of drug related and other criminal activity in public housing properties."
Johnson asked for Donovan and HUD, " to provide Mr. Costantini assistance and a clear path forward if federal red tape is hindering his ability to evict tenants engaged in illegal activities."
According to Johnson's letter, Costantini said several HUD policies, "such as the endless lease" serve as roadblocks to evicting criminals from housing paid for in part by taxpayers.
"He goes on to write that a recent HUD ruling, 'is restricting our ability to use capital fund money for security purposes' and (Costantini) concludes that 'HUD's general attitude is not supportive of drug and crime prevention efforts in public housing,'" said Johnson.
"I'm concerned that this is happening at the expense of the truly needy law-abiding citizens such as the elderly and unemployed veterans. I'm also concerned that the taxpayers of Steubenville are seeing their tax dollars used against them, thereby negatively affecting their property values and their safety," Johnson stated in his letter.
Johnson was asked by city and Jefferson County officials on June 11 to initiate a congressional investigation into alleged drug activities, murders, shootings and domestic assaults in local public housing properties as well as federal subsidized Section 8 housing.
The local elected officials requested the meeting with Johnson following a May 21 shooting incident at the Earl Rodgers public housing complex in the city's South End.
A spokesman for Johnson said Wednesday afternoon said the congressman has not heard back yet from the agency in response to his inquiry.
"We are continuing to monitor the situation as we wait for an official response from HUD and Secretary Donovan," said Ben Keeler in Johnson's Marietta office.
Prior to the closed-door meeting, the commissioners heard from representatives from the Hilltop Community Development Corp., who urged JMHA and city officials to crack down on alleged criminal activities in Section 8 housing in the Pleasant Heights and LaBelle neighborhoods.
"We provide the housing voucher and we cannot evict a tenant living in a Section 8 housing unit. But we can make sure the landlord is aware of any criminal activity. Our powers are limited to stopping the housing voucher. It is up to the landlord to evict a tenant," Costantini explained.
In other business, the board unanimously approved awarding a $129,000 bid to C.M. Mullins Construction of Bloomingdale for the replacement of the rear entrance canopy at the John F. Kennedy apartment building.