Burns: $7.2 million estimated cost to fix Prospect housing issues

Oakhurst community also being examined, RTK request shows

EBENSBURG, April 20 – The “rough cost estimate” to fix problems in the Prospect public housing community is $7.2 million – $65,454 for each of its 110 units – according to emails obtained by state Rep. Frank Burns, which also show that:

  • Oakhurst Homes, another Johnstown Housing Authority property, is also getting a structural review, as it was built around the same time as Prospect.
  • A “total redevelopment down the road” is a possibility for Prospect.
  • JHA staff was “losing sleep with worry” over the Prospect situation, where it was determined roofs will collapse at some point.

Burns, D-Cambria, said his Right-to-Know request asking for correspondence between the JHA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development turned up many heretofore unknown insights.  

“As I suspected, HUD has been pretty involved in what’s happening at Prospect from the get-go, and there are some pretty revealing and newsworthy details in these emails I obtained and am sharing,” Burns said. “I am presenting this information solely as a public service, providing pieces of the information puzzle so everyone can get a fuller understanding of what is being discussed.”

That starts with this email from JHA executive director Mike Alberts to HUD officials on March 22, the day of a 10 a.m. group meeting with Prospect residents:

The attachment to this email contains rough cost estimates for the repairs as suggested by the structural engineer. Taking the given estimates at 110 units and 19 buildings, the grand total is about $ 7.2 million.

Our A/E firm worked with a contractor on coming up with these estimates.

We are waiting on a timeline for the geotechnical survey. We will need that whether repairs are still an option or if we have to push this out to a total redevelopment down the road.

The supporting material included this breakdown of estimated costs:

In addition, there are these highlights from a March 13 email from HUD official Jacqueline Molinaro-Thompson, from her notes from a March 10 meeting with Alberts:

  • Prospect is located on a hill; Oakhurst Homes was built around the same time, 1943, and is on a hill and the same style; Mike is getting a similar structural engineering study of Oakhurst too
  • Engineer firm says the problems include heavy drywall, short nails, and the weight is pulling the plaster down, nails are slipping; over the years contractors added more plaster and the weight is bringing down plaster because the nails are short and there are no screws;
  • Mike said the floors are ‘warped’ in units; over time the CFP tried to correct this, e.g., JHA did a full ‘floor stabilization project’ several years ago The last CFP to address this was a 2019 project, Doors & Floor Stabilization in Prospect & Oakhurst
  • some toilets are coming away from the flooring and some bathroom floors are now ‘spongy’
  • Mike and June concluded best and safest thing to do is to relocate all residents; the structural engineer’s preliminary report says the ‘roof will collapse at some point’ - Mike says nobody can predict when this could be, in a year, or a week
  • Mike and his team are very worried in case plaster falls on a resident in their apt (it happened once already, and cut a woman’s leg), or falls on a child while they’re sleeping and hurts them terribly; JHA staff is losing sleep with worry
  • JHA has 62 current vacancies across their properties, 21 of which are move- in ready; JHA is suspending all new admissions so that these 62 units can be occupied by Prospect residents
  • Mike said JHA is in a good financial position and can afford this; when the report is finalized and the JHA has a plan for mitigating the issues, PMM will look into the CFP emergency grant program and JHA can apply for these funds
  • A protest is planned for next week because some local folks who are long time JHA critics said the JHA ‘knew about’ the issues’ for years and ignored it

Burns also obtained this March 31 email from HUD official Lee Asad to Alberts:

Paul and I would like to schedule a meeting with you next week to discuss JHA paths to modernization and potential redevelopment. We want to be certain that JHA has understanding of the relevant regulations and procedures; and to provide guidance and any necessary technical assistance needed for HUD approvals.

Regarding JHA’s apparent concurrent release of the information Burns requested to a local TV station, Burns said, “It's baffling why Johnstown Housing Authority releases details to the public only after I legally file Right-to-Know requests seeking the information. The timing of Mike Alberts' admissions to the media, as they relate to my RTK requests, seems like a remarkable coincidence.”