Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority board members said Friday they will not allow the housing authority, its staff and residents to become scapegoats in the month-long public discussion regarding alleged criminal activities in public housing in Steubenville.
JMHA Executive Director Joe Costantini and board Chairman Les Zapor issued a press release stating "the problems the city has recently experienced over the past several months are not a result of anything that JMHA has done or not done."
The release came three days after Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, formally asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate alleged criminal activity in public housing units in Steubenville. Johnson's letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan 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."
And 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."
"It has been implied that JMHA does not screen applicants for criminal history," the group's release states. "JMHA has been performing criminal background checks on every adult applicant for public housing and Section 8 vouchers for over 15 years. We have used the State of Ohio Law Enforcement Automated Data System for over 10 years, as is required and authorized for housing authorities under the Ohio Revised Code Section 4501(F), which states, 'Ohio housing and urban development agencies shall not access CCH/III through a criminal justice agency. They may apply to LEADS for access for this purpose.'
"It has been further stated that JMHA has refused offers of help from the city. We have never refused any help, if it was offered. In fact, we asked for help. In April 2011, at our request, we met with the city manager, the chief of police and members of the narcotics unit to discuss our concerns over activity we were observing even then in the area of Earl Rodgers Plaza," said Costantini.
"Perhaps most disturbing is the statement that JMHA has had 'murders, shootings, domestic assaults and drug activities' on its properties. The city has had murders this year, none of which occurred at our properties. While we acknowledge that our properties have seen their share of shootings, domestic assaults and drug activity, as have many other neighborhoods, the last murder on our properties was in 1996, when JMHA Security Guard Donald Hamann was shot and killed on the property that now bears his name," noted Costantini.