WARREN - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is conducting its own compliance review of Sunshine of Warren Trumbull Inc., the agency said.
Ray Keyser, acting field office director of the Cleveland office of HUD, on Tuesday sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan confirming the review in response to an inquiry made by the congressman about the operations at the nonprofit organization.
"We appreciate your inquiry regarding Sunshine Homes and your request for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to look into the situation," Keyser wrote in his letter. "At this time material compliance issues are under review. HUD cannot provide a response while this process is underway."
Ryan's office was contacted in August by community activist Dennis Blank requesting the congressman to urge HUD to do an investigation on the agency based on various newspaper articles that revealed the agency had not paid an estimated $187,000 in back property taxes and fines for several years on homes that were, in part, financed by federal HOME funds.
The Trumbull County Treasurer's office had threatened foreclosure on more than 80 properties owned by Sunshine.
Blank argued in his letter to Ryan's office that the non-profit organization has received, either directly or indirectly, as much as $4.25 million in government funding since it was formed in the early 1990s.
"The $4 million lavished on Sunshine could have financed effective programs to both reduce blight and provide affordable housing in Warren and Trumbull County," Blank wrote. "Let's not compound the injury of Sunshine's failure by adding the insult of shrugging our shoulders and walking away."
The nonprofit organization was created in the 1990s by area residents as an agency which could accept HUD HOME funds. The city and county governments created the consortium in order to qualify to receive HUD community development grants directly, instead of having to apply to the state for the grants.
HOME grants are designed to help areas to create housing opportunities for low to moderate income residents.
A portion of the funding used for the purchase and rehabilitation of some of the initial Sunshine properties came from HOME loans.
In addition, there have been questions about the non-profit's ability to create for-profit subsidiaries that provide housing for low- to moderate-income residents both inside and outside of the county.
"I'm surprised it has taken three months for a response," Blank said in a telephone interview. "What the letter to Congressman Ryan tells me is some type of review is taking place. I don't know what the nature of it is. We are just going to have to wait to find out."
Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa earlier this month reported county officials and Sunshine leaders are nearing an agreement in which the organization will be able to place the properties many of the nearly all of the properties that previously have been identified to be behind in their back property taxes under a payment plan.
The agency has become current on some properties that were on sale through land contract. It also has sold several of its properties, using the profits to pay down on its property taxes.