A team of Johnstown leaders and organizations has launched a new “Quality Affordable Housing Task Force”. The goal is to move forward on effective approaches to addressing the challenges of affordable housing in the context of persistent and concentrated poverty, blight, public safety and crime concerns, and the need for more market rate and workforce housing residents in the downtown and key neighborhoods.
Johnstown is the poorest city in Pennsylvania, with severe socio-economic challenges including depopulation, blighted structures, struggling schools, and public safety issues. The Johnstown Housing Authority (JHA) manages 1,504 public housing units in 148 buildings, mostly located in the City of Johnstown, as well as 960 HUD Section 8 vouchers. This means that well over 20% of the City’s population lives in low-income housing units based on a 2.2 person/unit average – that’s 10 times the national rate of 2.1% living in low income housing. When JHA’s existing public housing units were built between 1943-1976, they were sought after and fully occupied. At that time, the City of Johnstown and Cambria County had a larger population and reliable jobs in the steel mill industry. With the mills closed and a drastically decreased population today, yet the existing public housing units are still fully occupied. Further, the public housing units built for families in the 1940s and 1950s are functionally obsolete. The existing styles of public housing are not attractive to families, concentrate poverty, can invite trouble, and yet are still full.
Key leadership and organizations have been meeting since January to collaborate to move forward on an effective, collaborative, and common-sense approach to progress on affordable housing issues will be part of this process. A core group has already formed that includes the City of Johnstown, the Johnstown Housing
Authority, the 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health, the 1889 Foundation, and the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. These core organizations are now in the process of inviting other key organizations including educational institutions, law enforcement and public safety entities, representatives of public housing, represents from minority organizations, economic revitalization entities, and local, state, and federal elected officials.
The Task Force is pleased to report that recent steps of progress are already underway. Senior officials at the White House, HUD Headquarters, and the HUD Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator have already confirmed that they understand that Johnstown is struggling with these issues, and have committed to focus attention and resources to find effective solutions and steps forward. Congressman John Joyce and his staff, Senator Bob Casey and his staff, and the Office of Senator John Fetterman have conveyed clearly that they recognize these issues, and are committed to supporting effective and practical steps forward.
On January 26, 2023, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge announced that the Johnstown Housing Authority was selected as an awardee for the competitive “Family Self-Sufficiency Program” (FSS). This grant will provide Johnstown with a new “Program Coordinator” to provide on-the-ground support for families in Johnstown’s HUD-assisted housing to boost financial empowerment, reduce or eliminate the need for welfare assistance, and make progress toward economic independence and self-sufficiency (See www.hud.gov/press/press_releases_media_advisories/HUD_No_23_017).
The organizations launching this Task Force are very pleased to have joined in productive conversations with HUD MidAtlantic Regional Administrator Matthew Heckles, and the Task Force has invited him to come to Johnstown for a community workshop to discuss effective approaches for moving forward – and Regional Administrator Heckles has accepted the invite. Appointed by the President, Mr. Heckles has substantial experience in these issues, as the previous Chair of the Wilmington, DE Housing Authority, the Assistant Secretary of Community Development for the State of Maryland, and in roles as the Director of Housing Finance, Director of Policy & Planning, and Legislative & Policy Advisor for the Delaware State Housing Authority. The Quality Housing Task Force will host HUD Regional Administrator Heckles and officials from the HUD Pittsburgh Field Office for a meeting and listening session, dates TBD.
Key goals for the Quality Affordable Housing Task Force will include topics that range from:
- Engaging the Johnstown community on effective pathways forward on the affordable housing issue.
- Exploring technical assistance, strategic planning and best practice models to address housing needs in our communities.
- Exploring transformational grant opportunities related to housing choice neighborhoods and other areas of focus.
- Supporting social service agencies to address urgent needs of at-risk individuals in the community.
- Continued support of housing rehabilitation, market-rate and other quality housing initiatives in the community.
- Integrating these affordable housing efforts with broader economic development and community revitalization initiatives in Johnstown.