Housing 'improvement': The dirty details

SANDUSKY Rat infestations, dangerous electrical wiring, exposed lead paint and roofs leaking like si
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

SANDUSKY

Rat infestations, dangerous electrical wiring, exposed lead paint and roofs leaking like sieves.

Those are just a few of the problems facing homeowners who were failed by the city's Community Housing Improvement Program.

"I don't know what's going to happen, and I don't know how to get help," said a 57-year-old homeowner in the program, who asked to remain anonymous. "(The house) is in worse shape than before they came."

The woman, a longtime Sandusky resident, told Ohio Department of Development monitors that when the city staff were put on administrative leave, the contractors stopped work and never returned to her home.

"I'm really disappointed," the home-owner said. "The part that worries me is that I signed these papers ... what's happening with that money?"

The woman said she believes the city is trying to help her, but it might be too little, too late.

"They're in such a mess at the city now," she said. "I just think they were shocked themselves."

Though the exact number has yet to be determined, chief planner Carrie Handy said it will cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair the damage that has been done since the city initiated its first in-house Community Housing Improvement Program in 2004.

On April 11, the city received the Ohio Department of Development's monitoring report for the 2006 program. Kline said he expected the public to be outraged at the state's findings.

"This is not going to be an easy fix," Kline said.

Back to the beginning

On his first day as city manager, Kline spoke with Handy about the issues in the community and neighborhood development division, particularly the CHIP program. Handy started with the city in January 2007 and was concerned about problems she saw in the department.

"I fortunately had run one of these programs in Dover," Kline said. "So I was familiar enough (with the program) to know things weren't right."

At that point, the three department employees were placed on paid administrative leave and a third-party investigation was launched by Murman and Associates of Lakewood.

The Ohio Department of Development also sent in a team of monitors, since federal Housing and Urban Development funds along with Community Development Block Grant funds were being expended by the city. The city's files have now been subpoenaed by the state inspector general's office, which investigates alleged wrongdoing by state agencies. Its investigative report could be sent to a state prosecutor to determine if the evidence supports criminal charges.

The latest findings

Kline said the problems found in the 2006 program were even worse than those from the 2005 report, which the city received March 18.

"Bid specifications for the work to be completed were very similar from house to house, and seemed in some cases to replace items even when they did not need it, while at the same time ignoring items that really needed to be addressed," according to the state report. "For example, in one house the windows had been replaced (a recurring theme from house to house), and the windows that were removed were left in the backyard by the contractor. The removed windows were only seven years old and were of higher quality than the ones with which they were replaced."

The state's monitoring report chronicles home after home that was rehabilitated poorly, or not at all.

Kline described a home with a roof repaired so poorly that when it rained the homeowner needed an umbrella to go into the bathroom. At another home, a sewer line was damaged and allowed rats into the home, he said.

"I don't see a whole lot of effort was really made to get a good base of contractors," Handy said. She added it was also a concern that much of the work was given to out-of-town contractors as opposed to local ones.

Some houses were left with lead paint exposed, dangerously poor electrical wiring, leaking roofs and damaged foundations. In some cases, contractors were paid for work that was never done.

The state monitors wrote that it is the city's responsibility to fix these issues and figure out how to pay for them. In some cases, funds will have to be returned to the state for projects that were inappropriately funded.

Rebuilding

Handy said the city is working to get the program back on track and correct the damage that has been done.

The funding for the program is frozen, and the city has not applied for next year's grants.

Handy and Kline will discuss how to restructure the program, whether to hire new people or whether to find a consultant to help straighten out the files.

Only one of the three employees placed on paid administrative when the investigation started in November is still employed with the city.

Rehabilitation specialist Mark Warren was fired when he failed to show up for his scheduled disciplinary hearing with Kline. Program administrator Mary Bird resigned before Kline issued his disciplinary decision.

Program coordinator Kaye Conway received a three-week unpaid suspension and will be reassigned to different city department per Kline's decision.

Kline said Thursday that his decision was based solely on the state's report from 2005. He wrote in his disciplinary decision for Conway that the city "reserves the right to additional disciplinary action against you concerning any wrongdoing that is discovered subsequent to your pre-disciplinary hearing."

Whether the new information will change Kline's decision remains to be seen. He said he will closely examine the evidence and see if anything changes his mind.