Housing Authority might soften ‘strike’ policy

Proposal to create panel reflects struggle with HUD’s push on policies

The Altoona Housing Authority is considering a change in its handling of cases in which allegations of crime could result in evictions or the tossing of applications for housing.

Instead of each public housing development’s administrative officer or the head of the Section 8 assistance program deciding alone whether to evict or reject, the authority may create a panel that would decide the thorniest cases.

The idea came from Fairview Hills family development administrative officer Brad Kanuch, who heard about it recently at a training in Pittsburgh.

The proposed change reflects the authority’s struggle with the Depart­ment of Housing and Urban Develop­ment’s push in recent years for housing agencies nationwide to soften their “one-strike” policies by evicting or rejecting for convictions rather than mere charges and by taking into account extenuating circumstances.

The authority has resisted the change, although officials a couple of years ago compromised with a plan to send warning letters, rather than eviction notices, when it learns of a tenant’s misdeed — provided the misdeed is benign and the tenant does not pose a threat to other residents.

Kanuch is proposing a panel consisting of a member of the authority’s admin­istration and representatives from the public housing side and the Section 8 side.

In each case, the administrative officer for the particular development or section would present the facts without sitting on the panel, he said.

The panel would provide “another set of eyes” in difficult cases, said Executive Director Cheryl Johns.

It could be used when the housing project administrator who normally makes the decision is “troubled” about a particular case, said solicitor Bill Haberstroh, who has met with Kanuch about the idea.

Sometimes the right choice isn’t obvious, Kanuch said.

“It used to be one strike, and you’re done,” he said.

“(But) HUD wants us to start looking at things differently.”

That means checking on details of situations case-by-case, taking into account charges that might not reflect a participant’s true role.

It also means considering whether rehabilitation means that someone is no longer a threat, according to Kanuch.

Making the right choice will mean that administrative officers will need to do their own investigating, which can involve checking out affidavits of probable cause filed by police and talking to other tenants, Kanuch indicated.

“I want to make sure I’m making the right decision(s),” he said.

Doing it right is critical, because the well-being of accused tenants and applicants with troubled histories — as well as of neighbors and potential neighbors — is hanging in the balance, Kanuch said.

“It’s a tightrope,” he said. “It’s nothing that I take lightly.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.