WARREN - Every spring, a property manager places rat poison around Tomara Russell's home.
Russell's home at 511 Oriole Place is clean. But two lots down stands a home owned by the nonprofit, taxpayer-created, multi-million-dollar Sunshine of Warren Inc. The Sunshine home, vacant for nine years, is a rat-infested, abandoned house with no doors, windows, siding or anything of value inside.
''Hallmark (Management Realty Inc.) has to come here every spring to place poison around my house to kill the rats and stop them from getting into our house,'' Russell said. ''It is an expense it should not have.''
Tribune Chronicle / Raymond L. Smith
Tomara Russell, with her granddaughter, 15-month-old Danicka Evans, stands inside the Warren First Homes house that Russell may be able to buy in 2013. Although Russell said she is pleased with the tax credit program that will let her buy the home on Oriole Place, she’s frustrated with its parent organization, Sunshine of Warren Inc., for allowing a home nearby to fall into disrepair. See story, 6A.
Russell is one of two women on Oriole Place who have expressed frustration over watching a Sunshine home slowly fall into disrepair. Yet they are pleased to be part of a tax credit program sponsored by the corporation, which has provided them with single-family homes in which to live and raise their children.
The City of Warren and Trumbull County created Sunshine in 1993 using federal HOME grants to provide housing for low-income residents. It obtained money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to purchase, rehab and construct homes, mostly in Warren.
Sunshine, which expanded into four additional incorporations, has 87 single-family homes while its subsidiaries own 148 Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties.
Nearly two dozen of the properties are either demolished, on demolition lists, condemned or soon to be condemned.
One of them is 481 Oriole Place.
Juanita Johnson, 509 Oriole Place, and Russell wonder why Sunshine, which has $7.5 million in assets listed on its 2009 tax form, has not demolished it yet.
''It has been empty as long I've lived here, and I've been here for eight years,'' Johnson said.
Russell, who moved into her house in 1998, says 481 Oriole Place has been empty for about nine years.
''I've spoken to the people at Hallmark, which manages our properties, about it and they referred me to the director of Sunshine Inc.,'' Russell said. ''I complained, but nothing was done.''
Sunshine Executive Director Anthony Iannucci said the nonprofit is in the process of evaluating properties and has several slated to be demolished and others that are being looked at more closely.
''But it is a process,'' he said.
Johnson's house is one empty field south of 481 Oriole Place.
''I cut half of the grass on the lot next to the house,'' Johnson said. ''My lawn mower will only do so much.''
There was an abandoned house on the empty lot a couple years ago, but it eventually was torn down.
Russell, who raised five children in her home and baby-sits her granddaughter, worries about the empty structure because people enter frequently when the weather is warm.
The house does not have windows or doors. All of its exterior siding has been stripped. Anything of value inside has been stolen.
''I know when people are in the house, because my dog and my neighbor's dog start barking and looking over there,'' Russell said. ''I've seen people inside of the house.''
Russell has tried to stop neighborhood kids, curious about what is inside the home, from going inside of the structure.
''I try to tell them, but they don't listen,'' she said. ''You don't know what is in there. Someone could get hurt.''
Russell, though, is very pleased with Sunshine subsidiary Warren First Homes, which is one of the tax credit programs that allows residents with incomes at 80 percent of the poverty level or less to lease properties with options to buy after 15 years. She expects to be eligible to purchase the home next year.
''Hallmark has been great in taking care of everything at (my) house,'' Russell said. ''They come here and do all of the maintenance on the house. They have been very good. I'm supposed to get a new driveway next year.
''If God blesses me, I'm buying this home,'' Russell said. ''I prayed for this house. I raised my five children in this home. I watch my grandchildren in this home.''
Russell described planting a small tree on the front lawn of the house when she first moved in. Today, it towers over her head.
''I've trimmed this tree several times,'' Russell said.
Johnson has not decided whether she would be interested in buying her home when she becomes eligible next year.