Burns: Tear down Cambria’s excess public housing, rebuild in Philly
Downsizing from 1,504 units would meet true need, end revolving door
EBENSBURG, Feb. 2 – Noting that Cambria County has five times as many public housing units as comparably sized cities – a carryover from a bygone era – state Rep. Frank Burns is calling for a rightsizing at the Johnstown Housing Authority by tearing down excess units and rebuilding them in Philadelphia or elsewhere.
Burns, D-Cambria, said the JHA’s 1,504 public housing units might have been needed decades ago when Johnstown’s population exceeded 200,000 – but are a hindrance on many fronts now that the city has shrunk to only 18,411 residents.
It’s time to rip down old, outdated public housing in Cambria County, Burns said, and have the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development transfer those units and related federal subsidy to areas of true need and high demand.
“That way, people from Philadelphia don’t have to journey to Johnstown and pretend to be Cambria County residents to get public housing, just so they can subsequently get a Section 8 voucher and immediately head back where they came from,” Burns said. “We must make this change to ensure that our community is not taken advantage of, and that our tax dollars are being used efficiently.”
Burns said he has learned that while the JHA admits it is difficult to determine how many families are transporting through Johnstown, by the JHA’s own estimates, as many as 80 families per month are migrating into Johnstown, as many as half of the Johnstown public housing units are from people outside Cambria County, and many of these residents return to their home county after obtaining a Section 8 voucher.
By the JHA’s own estimates as many as 80 families per month are migrating into Johnstown, as many as half of the Johnstown public housing units are from people outside Cambria County, and many of these residents return to their home county after obtaining a Section 8 voucher.
Burns said his proposal would help solve a financial dilemma faced by the JHA, which as recently as 2020 paid nearly $1.8 million to cover housing subsidies for people who obtained a Section 8 voucher in Cambria County but were using it to live elsewhere. That onerous abuse of the system was one of several findings documented by a Right-to-Know request filed by Burns.
Burns said that JHA executive director Mike Alberts has confirmed that one path taken by outsiders is to move into available Johnstown public housing units, which qualifies them to seek and obtain a JHA-issued Section 8 voucher – which they then use to pay for housing outside the county, leaving the JHA to foot that bill.
Burns believes substantially reducing the supply of public housing to match Cambria’s current need would reduce any excess, and restore integrity and accountability to the system.
"Johnstown has a long history of providing public housing to those in need, and I'm committed to making sure that we continue to do so in a responsible way," Burns said. "But we need to make sure that our public housing system is serving the people of Cambria County, and not those from outside our area looking to take advantage of a loophole in the system.”