Burns: Cambria County Assistance Office owned by City of Philadelphia Trustee

Does link promote public housing pipeline?

EBENSBURG, Oct. 30 – Researching the controversial Cambria County Assistance Office move to Upper Yoder Township, state Rep. Frank Burns has unearthed that the office’s longtime location in downtown Johnstown is quizzically owned by the City of Philadelphia Trustee.

Burns, D-Cambria, said he finds it an odd arrangement that the welfare office in Cambria County is owned by a Philadelphia entity, one with a mailing address of Girard Estate, 1101 Market St., Suite 2600, Philadelphia.

“Given the high percentage of Johnstown Housing Authority tenants who hail from Philadelphia, I doubt that I am the only person wondering if there is some sort of connection here,” Burns said. “There are plenty of small towns between Philadelphia and Johnstown – so why is Johnstown the prime destination?

While it’s often been rumored that billboards were put up around Philadelphia directing people to come to Johnstown for public housing assistance, Burns could not confirm the existence of these advertisements.

“Would there be need for contentious billboards when the City of Philadelphia trustee owns the welfare office in Johnstown?” Burns asked.

Burns said that in addition to Johnstown having five times as many public housing units as comparably sized cities:

  • 80 families per month (mainly from Philadelphia) are moving to Johnstown just to live in public housing.
  • 50% of the JHA’s 1,504 public housing units are occupied by people who came from outside Cambria County.
  • $12,500 is the average household income of those relocating here for public housing.

Burns said he will be requesting a copy of the current Cambria County Assistance Office lease agreement, to determine if the state is paying that Philadelphia entity an exorbitant rent – which may be why the move to the state-owned Hiram G. Walker Center was put in motion in the first place.

“I guess the big unanswered question in terms of providing clarity is, ‘Why was this Philadelphia-downtown Johnstown arrangement done in the first place, and who was responsible for it?’” Burns added. “If we knew the architects of that plan, we might know more about the extent of this Philadelphia connection.”