The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 28, 2012

Housing authority leaders scramble to break down misperceptions, debunk myths

— Ask a dozen local residents about the Johnstown Housing Authority, and it’s likely that some common themes will emerge:

• The authority advertises to lure tenants from other areas.

• Most public-housing tenants are “outsiders” arriving directly from places such as Philadelphia and New York.

• Anybody can get into public housing, and at any time.

Officials insist that all three assertions are false. And they now are beginning to respond publicly after such rumors have persisted despite the existence of few – if any – hard facts supporting them.

“It’s just not what they think it is. Most of that stuff out there is just not so,” said Althea Jeffers, the authority’s management director.

‘Take a picture’

Of all the rumors regarding the housing authority, advertising – the idea that the authority purchases billboards or newspaper space to lure tenants from larger metropolitan areas – may be the most prevalent.

“I know what the perception is. We’ve battled it for years,” said Susan Frommell, the authority’s occupancy director.

Frommell issued a challenge to those who say they’ve seen billboards promoting Johnstown Housing Authority in other places.

“You take a picture of that sign,” she said.

“We don’t advertise,” Frommell added.

“We never have outside of this area.”

Financial documentation supports her assertion. As of late last year, the authority had spent just $8,432 on advertising in 2011; detailed statements showed local purchases such as ads in football programs and public notices in The Tribune-Democrat.

The authority does not even maintain a website promoting its properties.

And a consistently high occupancy rate in Johnstown’s public housing also would seem to negate the need to recruit tenants from elsewhere.

“We do have a waiting list,” Frommell said. “We’ve been maintaining a 98-percent occupancy rate.”

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