Trumbull County and City of Warren leaders should swoop in to take over Sunshine Inc. and its subsidiaries and investigate for any possible wrongdoing by the board of directors and their leader.
Meanwhile, all local communities with Sunshine properties should look out for the well being of the neighborhoods where these properties exist.
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.
Sunshine has 87 single-family homes. Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa said his office will foreclose on 59 of them unless the nonprofit organization, which owes an estimated $166,000 in property taxes and $22,600 in delinquent special assessments, produces an adequate payment plan. Many other properties were delinquent but over the last couple of years Sunshine paid the taxes plus late fees.
Some of the 59 houses were sold on land contracts that include payment for taxes. It appears that the money the buyers sent to Sunshine for taxes was spent elsewhere, putting years of investment and their pursuit of the American dream in jeopardy.
In addition, Sunshine or its subsidiaries had four properties demolished and have three on Warren's demo list and two on the city's condemned list. Trumbull County has placed a tax lien against Sunshine for the cost of two demolitions.
Another 12 Sunshine houses need significant repairs, eight of which Sunshine Director Anthony Iannucci said should be added to the demo list. Another 10 Sunshine properties were trashed and stripped so badly by tenants that they had to be rehabbed twice.
Taxpayer money was used to buy and rehab houses, then taxpayer money was used to re-rehab or tear down many of the same houses, and now taxpayer money is being used to pay penalties on delinquent taxes on these houses. Despite all this, Sunshine continued to accept government money and pay Iannucci, private contractors and private property managers.
This is a disaster.
Calling Sunshine a private company, Iannucci has not provided board meeting minutes, copies of its contracts or details about how taxpayer money was spent. But local governments, in this case the county and Warren, which are public bodies, should not be able to create private ones that operate behind a veil.
Since the city and county created Sunshine, commissioners and Mayor Doug Franklin's administration should un-create it. It's time for a thorough investigation into Sunshine's board of directors to determine how they made decisions - such as borrowing more money than the agency could afford to purchase more property than it could manage. It's time to probe the land contracts, the rehabilitation construction contracts and the property management contracts that Iannucci dealt and the board approved.
The commissioners and Franklin should invite an outside investigator, perhaps Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, and present findings to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Franklin and the commissioners should also hold joint, public announcements to periodically update the community on how they are fixing this mess.
The community at large continues to suffer great cost and reduced property value in neighborhoods where Sunshine homes are mismanaged.