Council wants answers soon on Sunshine

WARREN – While council members on Tuesday grilled Sunshine of Warren Director Anthony Iannucci about the nonprofit’s $188,000 in back property taxes and fees, he said things are starting to turn around.

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, said he believes the organization has a huge problem of trust in the council and in the public.

“You stonewall us on any questions dealing with wages, demolitions, property taxes, condemned houses and anything that we ask for,” Novak said. “We have people in the community that cut the grass, remove tires, and I’ve paid for Dumpsters to clean up Sunshine properties.”

The county has reported that 57 of Sunshine’s 87 properties have back property taxes owed to the county. Nearly half of those properties are empty.

The City of Warren and Trumbull County created Sunshine in 1993 using federal HOME grants to provide housing for low-income residents. Sunshine obtained money from the city and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to purchase, rehab and construct homes, mostly in Warren. Iannucci said he doesn’t know how much money Sunshine has drawn since its inception, but the nonprofit continues to draw government funds.

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at large, said she believes that Sunshine has done some good things in the community over the years. She added, however, that once Iannucci realized the program was over-extended and had a significant cash-flow problem he had a responsibility to address that problem.

“You were well in your right to reduce your staff and should have worked to gotten rid of properties that no one was living in before the properties were vandalized into conditions that it would be difficult to rehab them,” Rucker said. “I consider that a total failure.”

Some Sunshine houses have been demolished, others are on the city demolition list, still others have been rehabbed more than once.

Because he did not have enough money to pay all of Sunshine’s bills, Iannucci said he decided it was more important to pay the mortgages on time.

Iannucci told council he can see light at the end of the tunnel. As proof he cited that he has paid $74,000 in two older debts, that all of the available Sunshine houses that can be rented are rented, and that the program is hoping to sell several houses it has rehabbed.

“We are showing two house in Hubbard and Howland townships this week,” Iannucci said. “Selling these houses will allow us to pay down on our taxes.”

In addition, Iannucci said the program is working with Huntington Bank to refinance the 61 homes in its portfolio from individual home loans to a blanket loan that includes all the houses, which will give Sunshine greater flexibility in selling houses that may be underwater.

Iannucci told the council that last year it paid $20,000 in back property taxes and in the last several weeks paid down on taxes of four land contract properties it is selling.

He also said he is working with the Trumbull County auditor and treasurer on a payment plan for the back taxes.

“It is not only coming up with a plan, but also to make sure we can make the payments,” Iannucci said.

Iannucci said the agency got to serious property tax problem because of cash flow problems created by losing administrative fees that that were formerly supplied by HUD.

Councilman Vince Flask, D-5th Ward, described Iannucci as a victim of bad timing because he took over the housing agency just before the housing bubble burst.

“I do not believe this is all your fault,” he said.