STEUBENVILLE - City leaders believe public housing is helping to drive the drug trade and violent crime currently plaguing Steubenville, and a group will be meeting this week to see what can be done to bring that to an end.
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, will meet Thursday with city officials, community leaders and representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to discuss public housing issues in Steubenville.
The public is not welcome at the gathering, however, as Johnson spokesman Ben Keeler said the meeting will be closed to the media, at HUD's request, "in order to have an open, honest and productive discussion."
Officials will hold a press conference following the closed-door session to discuss their findings.
The meeting is a follow-up to a June 11, 2012, gathering following shootings at public housing sites in the city. That meeting included Johnson, several city officials and Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham.
First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto said he wrote Johnson requesting the congressman return to Steubenville to follow up on last year's meeting.
Johnson will be joined at the meeting by Mayor Domenick Mucci; DiLoreto; Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority Executive Director Joe Costantini; JMHA board Chairman Les Zapor; city police Chief Bill McCafferty; retired Drug Enforcement Agency agent Jim Mavromatis, who conducted a security study for the JMHA; Franciscan University of Steubenville Director of Community Development Mike Florak; Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce President Sue Hershey; Business Community Representative Geary Teramana; and JMHA tenant representative Liz Smith.
Also expected to attend are two HUD officials.
According to the meeting agenda, Johnson will ask if there have been any improvements since his June 2012 visit.
Johnson also is expected to discuss ongoing issues, including drug problems, shootings and residents' complaints.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been five murders in the city. Since last July, there have been more than 60 reports of shots being fired.
The June 2012 visit prompted Johnson to write a letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan citing 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."
"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 county officials 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.
"A federal investigation started today when I came in here. We will review the documentation and we will determine how best to proceed. There is a pretty serious problem and it is not a short list of issues. When you have local officials asking for help it is a pretty serious matter. We will take appropriate action," Johnson said at the June 2012 meeting.
Following several public comments regarding the June meeting, city officials began meeting with JMHA representatives twice a month to exchange data.
Jimmy Davis, a public housing revitalization specialist, called those meetings "a good first step" and said he reviewed the JMHA policies and regulations following the June 26, 2012, request from Johnson for an investigation into alleged criminal activity in public housing units in Jefferson County.