The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


May 23, 2013

Section 8 housing gets too much blame

— Eliminating Section 8 housing in Johnstown would not solve all of the city’s drug and crime problems. It would not totally do away with deteriorating neighborhoods. And it would not automatically send the city on the road to economic and fiscal recovery.

Is there a problem involving Section 8 housing?

Absolutely. But issues in Johnstown and many other struggling Pennsylvania cities go much deeper, and those who blame all dwellers in low-income, assisted housing are wrong.

Drug use and the crime stemming from drug use have no boundaries tied to a person’s financial well-being. People are not bad simply because they don’t have a job, have a low-paying job or have medical issues keeping them on government assistance.

We commend Moxham community leaders for speaking out on the subject and airing their concerns in a Saturday front-page report by our Dave Sutor.      

“The concern is indeed that the focus is being made on Section 8 only,” said Roxbury resident Barry Gallagher, who owns multiple residential and business properties in Moxham. “That’s what’s being used as a political prop to further agendas here. We’re afraid that if that is seen as the primary problem that real problems won’t get addressed.”

Gallagher was referring to ongoing debate on the streets, in newspaper forums, and certainly in connection with the now 4-month-old investigation by Johnstown’s Drug and Crime Commission, which has been meeting in neighborhoods throughout the city. The feathers of he and others were particularly ruffled by a primary-election political advertisement in the city council race that tied Moxham crime and Section 8 housing.

Rich Hudec, a representative of the Greater Johnstown Landlord Association and Moxham Renaissance, believes – and rightly so – that scorning the entire Section 8 system does not advance the goal of understanding the causes of local crime.

“When there is criticism, we would like it directed toward the properties and the people that deserve the criticism, specifically tenants who are disruptive and owners – both landlords and owner-occupants – who don’t wish to maintain their properties up to community standards,” Hudec said.

As reported by Sutor, about 100 Section 8 units exist in Moxham. That accounts for 4 percent of the neighborhood’s total properties. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development program, administered locally by the Johnstown Housing Authority, is designed to provide housing for low-income families, seniors and disabled individuals.

JHA also wrongly has been accused of recruiting unwanted “lowlife” from large cities such as Philadelphia. An in-depth probe by The Tribune-Democrat turned up no such findings.

Meanwhile, we continue to be impressed by the dedication and hard work of the ad hoc crime commission, which was assigned the task of studying criminal activity in the city. Its probe has led to discussions other that Section 8 housing, including halfway houses, life-threatening violence, blight, rowdy behavior, the work of Crime Watch and other neighborhood organizations, and much more.

State Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, the commission’s very able chairman, said in January that a public report could be expected by mid-summer. Indications are that timetable still holds.

A public meeting of the entire body is scheduled for June 13 at the Public Safety Building. We continue to encourage city residents and others with concrete data and suggestions to speak up.

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What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

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