Sandusky sued over housing program

SANDUSKY While the city works to rebuild its housing department, homeowners who suffered the consequ
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



While the city works to rebuild its housing department, homeowners who suffered the consequences of the program's shortcomings are building their case.

Sandusky resident Victoria Irby filed a lawsuit against the city, former city rehabilitation specialist Mark Warren, New Horizon Development Company of Columbia Station, Ohio, and the company's president, Steven Strang, for their involvement in the mismanaged Community Housing Improvement Program that misspent thousands of dollars on homes that were rehabilitated poorly or not at all.

According to court documents, Irby is seeking more than $25,000 for the damage to her home along with all payments made to repair the damage and attorney fees.

Irby's is the first suit to be filed against the city as a result of the shortcomings of the Community Housing Improvement Program that operated from 2004-06.

When the investigation into the city-run program was launched in November 2007, the three program employees were placed on paid administrative leave.

Warren was fired when he failed to appear for his scheduled disciplinary hearing with city manager Matt Kline. Program administrator Mary Bird resigned before Kline issued his disciplinary decision. Former Department of Development program coordinator Kaye Conway was assigned to a new department after a 15-day unpaid suspension.

The city hired Murman and Associates of Lakewood to investigate 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 sent monitors to investigate and the program files have been turned over to federal investigators.

Some houses were left with lead paint exposed, dangerous 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.

Though the exact figures have 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.

Kline said the findings from the state monitoring report for program year 2006 were the worst.

When Irby first enrolled in the city program in 2006, she was told by Warren that Strang would be the contractor or the work would not be done, according to court documents. Irby asserts that Warren and Strang pressured her into getting more repairs than her home needed, including a new roof when her existing roof was less than seven years old and not in need of repair. The improper installation of the roof has caused leaks that it did not have before, according to court documents.

"During construction (Irby) inquired with Ms. Conway and Ms. Bird of the housing department and was constantly referred to Mark Warren, who was becoming increasingly hostile," according to court documents. Irby also claims that Strang used racial slurs when speaking with her.