Making Public Housing Safer

“Prime time” doesn’t mean the same thing to a drug dealer as it does to someone planning an evening of watching television. For the pushers, things start to heat up after most of us are in bed.

That is why U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, is wise to temper optimism with realism over a campaign to make public housing in Steubenville safer.

Johnson got involved two years ago when frustrated city officials asked for his help. Some public housing complexes in the area were out of control, because of illegal drug deals. Violence was not uncommon and it threatened law-abiding residents of the units.

Since Johnson began looking into the matter, things have improved. Both Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority and U.S. Housing and Urban Development officials are paying more attention to keeping the vast majority of public housing residents, who want nothing to do with illegal drugs, safe.

Still, the process “is taking longer than anyone wants,” Johnson commented last week.

A meeting at which Johnson was to discuss the issue with JMHA and HUD officials had been planned for April. It was postponed at HUD officials’ request. It has been rescheduled for 1 p.m. today at the Earl Rogers Plaza on South Fifth Street.

One question Johnson and concerned local officials and residents ought to ask is whether – two years after a genuine sense of alarm was expressed – JMHA and HUD officials are taking decisive, realistic action against violence at housing projects.

During a JMHA meeting last month, one resident of the John F. Kennedy apartment complex complained that it “turns into a mad house when the security guard leaves at 2:30 a.m.”

The wee hours of the morning are prime time for many types of crime, including illegal drug deals. Having apartment complex security guards on duty during that time period seems to be common sense.

A new security consultant, Jim Mavromatis, was hired recently by the JMHA. And during the meeting last week, authority board member Dave Hindman said the schedule for guards will be changed. “Today is the new dawn … things will get better,” he added.

Let’s hope so. And let’s also hope the process of change accelerates.