Burns calls on HUD to ease Johnstown Housing Authority burden

Philadelphia Housing Authority resumes billing for Section 8 transplants

EBENSBURG, Jan. 18 – Armed with new information supplied by the Johnstown Housing Authority in compliance with his Right-to-Know request, state Rep. Frank Burns is calling for a change to the federal policy that keeps the JHA on the hook for Section 8 payments once voucher holders port them outside Cambria County.

“It appears the Johnstown Housing Authority’s hands are tied when it comes to this nonsensical policy, which has siphoned millions of dollars away from Cambria County residents,” Burns said. “And if nothing is done, I’ve discovered the problem is on course to get worse.”

Burns, D-Cambria, said the documents he obtained show:

+ JHA paid a whopping $1.5 million in 2019 and $1.79 million in 2020 to cover Section 8 payments for an average 142 families no longer living in the county.

+ The cost to JHA fell to $789,297 for 41 out-of-county families in 2021, after the Philadelphia Housing Authority decided to absorb payments for 62 families, and the Delaware County Housing Authority absorbed the cost for another 73 families.

+ Because out-of-county housing authorities are under no obligation to absorb the cost of Section 8 vouchers, JHA is currently paying $8,313 per month to the Philadelphia Housing Authority to cover housing costs for seven families, with monthly rents ranging from $832 to $1,834, according to the JHA list of current Section 8 Program landlords and their payments.

Burns said that without a policy change at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development level, JHA Executive Director Mike Alberts expects that trend to continue, which puts his agency on a trajectory to once again be footing a million-dollar bill for people who no longer live in Cambria County.

“It was crazy what we were sending to other counties. (At one point) it was $1.8 million,” Alberts said. “But we’re just doing our job. We didn’t make the rules. Right now, we’re paying for seven Section 8 families living in Philly. But that number’s going to grow.

“Since November, they’ve started billing us again. If this keeps up, we’re going to be right back where we were.”

Burns said if the Philadelphia Housing Authority could absorb the cost of 62 vouchers in 2021, that should become standard practice moving forward. He said the cost to JHA for porting out vouchers fell to $231,796 for 18 families in 2022 – and should keep heading in a lower, not higher, direction.

“Why should the JHA be at the financial mercy of a whim from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, or any other housing authority?” Burns asked. “It should be a HUD rule that if you leave Cambria County, the obligation of subsidizing your rent leaves with you.”

Burns said documents also show JHA in 2022 paid nearly $302,000 to house 28 families outside the county, including four families in Baltimore County, Md.; two families each in Virginia Beach, Va.; the District of Columbia and Howard County, Md.; and one family each in Delaware County, Pa.; Wilmington, Del.; Miam-Dade County, Fla.; and Harford County, Md.