Burns calls on JHA to discuss ‘equity plan’ reach in Cambria County

Wants to know if HUD requirement could relocate public housing

EBENSBURG, May 23 – With a “total redevelopment” of its vacated Prospect public housing community an option mentioned by its executive director, state Rep. Frank Burns is calling on the Johnstown Housing Authority to publicly address how the building of any new units squares with a recent HUD mandate that cities and states create “equity plans” to continue receiving federal housing funding.

Burns, D-Cambria, said although the equity plans are a well-publicized requirement for housing authorities – with potential far-reaching implications – he has heard precious little from the JHA about the steps it is taking toward compliance.

“If, as I’ve read, this Biden administration mandate could cover anything from building low-income housing to redrawing school district lines to achieve racial or socio-economic integration, I think the people of Cambria County need to know what’s afoot in terms of JHA compliance,” Burns said.

“JHA executive director Mike Alberts recently said of his agency, ‘We need to be more than a housing authority.’ Alberts also was emailed by a Pittsburgh HUD official, ‘Your participation in the affordable housing task force may need to take a back seat until you can get the (Prospect) residents safely relocated and the building structurally sound again.’ So, he appears perfectly positioned to address this concern in the name of full transparency.”

Burns said an email he obtained using the Right-to-Know Law, sent March 31 from HUD official Lee Assad to Alberts, read, “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.”

Given these factors and the potential “equity plan” impact on the county, Burns said he thinks the public deserves answers to these highly relevant questions:

  • Would any HUD-funded new or replacement housing be constructed in Johnstown, where all its major family public housing communities such as Prospect are currently located, or could they be built in municipalities outside the city, such as Westmont, Upper Yoder, Richland or Ebensburg?

  • If such expansion beyond Johnstown boundaries could or would occur, does that require support from elected officials who head those municipalities such as township supervisors or borough councils? If so, have they been notified?

  • Have the JHA, Johnstown city council, Cambria County commissioners or nonprofit groups such as Vision Together 2025 been asked to participate in, or have they begun, any work on creating or submitting an “equity plan” to ensure continued receipt of federal housing money?

“Nothing of this magnitude should be a closely-held secret between the JHA and HUD, to be sprung on the people of Cambria County after everything has been decided,” Burns said. “I know I’ll be attacked and my intent will be twisted, but all I am fighting for is the public’s right to know.”