JHA: 'Major deficiencies in the units' led to vacate order at Prospect Homes
Mar. 10—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Johnstown Housing Authority officials on Friday still were not publicly identifying the reason why the authority told residents of its Prospect Homes complex to vacate their public housing units.
JHA Chairman Charles Arnone did confirm that the issue came to light during an investigation after a ceiling partially collapsed in one of the units.
"The engineer and architect told us that it could be a much bigger problem than we know of right now," said Arnone, who is also a member of Johnstown City Council. "How big? I don't have the specifics to answer that question, but it could be larger than just one or two units."
He added: "They're going to go back and do some more inspections. I don't want to say it's one particular thing when it could be multiple things. We just know that this one particular problem is a big issue, and we want to get these people out before something else happens."
Residents of the complex in Johnstown's Prospect section received notices on Thursday to vacate their units within 30 days. JHA Executive Director Michael Alberts said on Thursday that the notices were issued "due to preliminary reports received during an ongoing structural inspection."
On Friday, Arnone ruled out some common problems with residential properties when he was asked why the units had to be vacated.
"It's not black mold," he said. "It's not asbestos. It's not lead. It's not radon. It's not an airborne disease that would cause somebody to have lung cancer or a foreign disease. It's more preventive because of issues of construction."
The Tribune-Democrat has filed a Right-to-Know request to obtain the inspection reports and other materials related to the property closures.
There are 110 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-owned units in 19 buildings in the community, according to information at JHA's website.
'It makes you want to cry'
Prospect Homes residents were caught by surprise when they received their notices to vacate.
"It's sad," resident Jeffrey Matula Jr. said. "It makes you want to cry."
Matula said he has lived at Prospect Homes for 18 years and knows expecting mothers, senior citizens and people with physical issues who will have difficulty moving.
"I feel for my community and my neighbors that I grew up here with and lived with here for years and years," Matula said.
Matula said he has raised concerns about structural issues in the past, accusing the authority of getting "lazy" with maintenance of foundations, rain spouts and other parts of the structures.
"It's the material stuff that they let go," Matula said, "and now it's negligence on their behalf — and now they want to take it out on us tenants that have been paying rent up here for years and years and years. I got elderly neighbors up there. Come on. They ain't got no place to relocate."
He felt that "now they got caught because somebody's roof up here collapsed in on a young lady."
Matula talked on Friday with Michael Bradley, owner of New Jersey-based Transparent Credit Repair, who learned about the notices to vacate and drove to Johnstown to give Prospect Homes residents information about his business, which is designed to help people improve their credit scores so they can possibly buy homes instead of renting.
"They're a little disappointed because some residents just signed off on their lease three weeks ago," Bradley said. "They renewed their lease. Now they have the new knowledge that they have to relocate. There's no form of transparency. They weren't specifically told why they have to relocate. Some people say it's because of structural damage. That's it. That's all that they know. But what are the details behind the veil?"
Bradley spent part of the day walking through the streets at Prospect Homes, talking to residents and leaving business flyers on units.
Prospect Homes residents will not be required to pay rent this month.
The housing authority "will cover all moving costs and related fees associated with your relocation," according to the notification letters it sent to residents. Arnone said that the displaced residents could be relocated to JHA's other public housing properties and that Section 8 HUD housing choice vouchers are also an option.
"We're going to do everything we can to accommodate them, get them moved into one of our other units," Arnone said. "We have some that are getting moved to Section 8. We got them moved to the top of the list. We're accepting no new tenants until we get these people taken care of up in Prospect."
One-on-one meetings between authority officials and residents have been scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. The authority aims to speak to every resident on those two days.
"Johnstown Housing (Authority) don't care," Matula said, "and I can't wait until (Monday) down here at the community center when people actually get the chance to see who these fellows are."
Alberts said the authority is working to organize a group meeting, but explained that there are "still a lot of moving pieces on this."
Alberts confirmed that 101 of the complex's 110 units are currently occupied. Arnone made a "conservative" estimate that there are 150 to 200 residents.
The buildings at Prospect Homes were built in 1943, according to the JHA website. What to do about major repairs to the 80-year-old structures is HUD's decision, not JHA's.
"We don't know the plan long-term," Arnone said. "The short term is there are some major deficiencies in the units, and before anything should happen, we're trying to take care of them and get everybody out of there — because due to the inspections we had by an architectural engineer, we feel that it's safer to get everybody out of there and be preventive rather than to be waiting for something to happen."
HUD and the City of Johnstown were made aware of the issue. Neither City Manager Ethan Imhoff, Mayor Frank Janakovic nor HUD responded to interview requests.