Burns: HUD permits demolition of public housing units
‘Obsolescence test’ offers pathway to JHA downsizing
EBENSBURG, Oct. 23 – After obtaining HUD confirmation that local housing authorities can demolish units that pass an “obsolescence test” that deems them “uninhabitable,” state Rep. Frank Burns is urging the Johnstown Housing Authority to pursue that avenue to shrink from its artificially bloated 1,504 units.
Burns, D-Cambria, directed an inquiry to the director of HUD’s PIttsburgh-Buffalo Office of Public Housing, which oversees the JHA in terms of federal funding and regulation compliance.
Noting that Johnstown’s current population has plummeted to “well under half” of what it was 50 years ago, giving it “far more public housing than small cities of comparable population, Burns wanted to know: “Is there a path for cities in Pennsylvania to reduce the number of public housing units within city limits? If so, what is the process to do so?”
This answer came from HUD-Pittsburgh official Lee Asad: “PHAs may pursue removing units from their inventory via disposition or demolition. These processes are locally driven and require HUD approval, resident consultation and PHA board authorization.
“For demolition and disposition, HUD looks for PHAs to provide a proposal to replace public housing with other affordable housing such as low-income tax credit or Housing Choice Voucher based units.”
Additionally, Asad wrote, “At this time, the Johnstown Housing Authority continues to maintain its public authorities housing program at high occupancy to meet the local demand. The PHA and its residents have not expressed interest in reducing its affordable housing to HUD.”
Burns found the “high occupancy to meet local demand” comment incredible, considering the well-documented fact that Johnstown’s excess public housing is a huge magnet for attracting people from outside Cambria County, particularly Philadelphia.
“Half of the JHA’s units are filled with people coming here from outside the county. How do you call that ‘meeting the local demand?’” – Rep. Frank Burns
“Half of the JHA’s units are filled with people coming here from outside the county. How do you call that ‘meeting the local demand?’” Burns said. “JHA units are full only because of the influx of out-of-area residents.
“The JHA admits this, HUD knows this, the Johnstown Area School District knows this, the Cambria County district attorney knows this. Anybody who follows the news knows this. They’re moving here to play the system – in many cases just to get a Section 8 voucher – and Cambria County, the city of Johnstown, the Johnstown Area School District, and all of their residents and taxpayers end up shouldering a greater burden.”
Burns added that while Asad said HUD “looks for” housing authorities to provide a proposal to replace public housing with other affordable housing, that wording doesn’t make clear whether that is an absolute requirement.
“Johnstown may have needed 1,500 public housing units back in 1950, when 63,000 people lived in the city – but it sure doesn’t need that many today with 18,000 people,” Burns said. “HUD and the JHA shouldn’t be in the ‘business’ of keeping public housing units full at all costs, when the local market doesn’t bear out that need.
“What’s so hard about reducing public housing in a place that doesn’t need it, and increasing it in a place that does?”