Let down by the housing program

SANDUSKY Dozens of local families are working to rebuild their lives after being victims of the city's failed Community Housi
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Dozens of local families are working to rebuild their lives after being victims of the city's failed Community Housing Improvement Program.

When homeowners Derrick and LeAnn Close got involved in the city-run program nearly two years ago, they never imagined what a stressful two years it would be.

"Things are worse now than they were before," LeAnn Close said. "They keep telling us (they are) going to make it right... I just can't believe nobody's sued them yet."

When asked what parts of the family's First Street home still need to be repaired, Close just shook her head and said "everything."

She said the family was misled by city staff and city-hired contractors.

"They tricked us into signing papers we weren't supposed to be signing," Close said. "They just forged all the numbers."

Derrick Close said it was not uncommon for the contractors to show up hours late and only put in a few hours work before leaving for the day.

There was no assessment conducted to determine if there was lead-paint risk in the home until recently, when the Closes learned there was just such paint both inside and outside the home.

Close, who was pregnant at the time much of the work was ongoing, would clean up the messes the contractors left behind and was potentially exposed to lead-based paint hazards.

"I was crying every day they were working on the house," LeAnn Close said.

She said the city-hired contractors were often rude and inconsiderate.

Derrick Close described how the contractors would often leave the backyard gate open, even though they had been asked not to because the family's two dogs would get loose. Close spent more than an hour one day trying to find his lab-boxer mix, Diamond, after the contractors left his home with the back gate open.

"They didn't care about anybody's safety," LeAnn Close said.

The roof was damaged and now leaks into the attic. The gutters were improperly installed, causing further damage to the house and yard. The front deck was not replaced to the extent that had been budgeted in the paperwork.

And the electrical work in the home was dangerously shoddy and ruined many of the family's electrical appliances.

The Closes said the city promised to make things right and is working to repair the parts of the family's home that had been damaged by the previous contractor.

"I want my house back," LeAnn Cross said. "I just want my life back."

How this happened

The Closes' story is not an isolated incident. There are dozens of area residents who have been affected by the shortcomings of 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.

The city hired Murman and Associates of Lakewood to conduct an investigation into the program. The investigation cost the city more than $28,000 in legal fees to be paid from Department of Development funds.

The Ohio Department of Development also sent monitors to investigate the department.

When the investigation was launched in November of 2007, the three program employees were placed on paid administrative leave.

Rehabilitation specialist Mark Warren was fired when he failed to appear to his scheduled disciplinary hearing with Kline. Program administrator Mary Bird resigned before Kline issued his disciplinary decision. Former Department of Development program coordinator Kaye Conway returned to work Tuesday after a 15-day unpaid suspension.