WARREN - Warren Expressed website founder Dennis Blank this week released a letter sent to U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan's office, asking him to encourage Housing and Urban Development to look into the operations of Sunshine of Warren Trumbull Area Inc.
He tells Ryan the non-profit owes the county more than $100,000 in back property taxes and some of its funding has come from HUD's HOME grant program.
Over the last year, questions have been raised about the operation of the program that supplies housing to low- to moderate-income residents in Trumbull County. The Trumbull County Treasurer's office has threatened to file foreclosure notices on more than 80 properties owned by Sunshine.
Blank in August sent a letter to the congressman's office, saying 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."
Blank, this week, said he never received a phone call or met with anyone from Ryan's office about the Sunshine letter.
A spokesman with Ryan's office at the time told the Tribune Chronicle they received Blank's letter and would contact him to determine what could be done about his request. On Friday, Ryan replied on a the issue of blight, and included an apology for the delay. He did not address the questions about Sunshine.
Ryan states that the ''current state of abandoned and vacant housing in our region, and the dire need for demolition money. This is an issue that has frustrated me as well in recent years and I'd like to take this opportunity to detail my efforts on this issue.''
Ryan details efforts at trying to solve issues, including a note that ''After the new Republican Majority took office in 112th Congress, it soon became clear that there was little appetite for legislation that creates new programs or spends new money.''
He says he since has been working with northeast Ohio Congressional colleagues to address the problems.
''I and my staff have had conversations with city leaders about the issue of asbestos removal in vacant homes and what, if anything can be done to address the high cost of this complying with the necessary regulations.''
Ryan says he will continue to take up issues with HUD.
Blank, in his original postings, states that HUD's mission "to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all" has been so publicly failed by the mismanagement at Sunshine that it has undermined the public's respect for government in general. HUD owes it to taxpayers to demand accountability from Sunshine for the public moneys invested in it, he states.
The nonprofit was created in the 1990s by area residents to be 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 was used for the purchase and rehabilitation of some of the initial Sunshine properties came from these HOME loans.
Blank wrote he became concerned after reading Tribune Chronicle articles outlining Sunshine's failure to pay several years worth of property taxes on property it owns; that it has not paid on $2.7 million worth of "loans" it received from the county and city; and it has invested unrealistically large sums of money into the rehabilitation of some inner city homes that it will not be able to recoup.
Blank also questioned the non-profit's ability to be a partner in the creation of several for profit housing programs in Trumbull and Ashtabula counties.
"Sunshine has used its status as a private corporation to withhold as much information as possible from the public," Blank said. "These and other examples of mismanagement and lack of transparency have so far produced much heat but no fire. Warren City Council held several hearings without effect.
''Several city and county officials have called for increased scrutiny in the form of public audits, but none are scheduled."
Sunshine Executive Director Anthony Iannucci has repeatedly denied that the agency has done anything improper in its operations.
Iannucci last spring provided Warren's City Council a power point presentation of a 2011 audit done for it by the accounting firm Anderson, Metzger and Co. Iannucci said the audit shows money coming into the organizations in rents, interests, as well as money it is owed from the for profits. It also shows debts that it owes to Trumbull county, the city and the state.
Although the HOME money provided to Sunshine by the consortium is identified as loans on the audit, the consortium received the HUD HOME funds as grants.
Warren Community Development Director Michael Keys earlier this summer said he did not know why the funds were provided to Sunshine as loans instead of grants. However, he suggested the consortium had some early discussions about forgiving the HOME loan, if its primary lender, Huntington Bank, indicated that would help the nonprofit refinance its bank loans.
Sunshine is seeking to refinance its bank loans, in part, as a way to lower its monthly costs, so it can pay its property tax bills.
Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa on Thursday said the property tax issue has not been resolved.
Trumbull County Commissioners this summer said they expect any money loaned to Sunshine through the county to be repaid.