WARREN - The Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative is reaching out to organize residents living in Sunshine of Trumbull Inc. homes following recent revelations that the private, nonprofit organization at one point owed more than $188,000 in back property taxes and fines to the county.
Organizers in MVOC, which was founded in 2008 by faith-based and labor groups to improve the quality of life throughout Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties, held a meeting with some Sunshine Homes residents last week at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Warren in which tenant rights were discussed.
About two weeks ago, MVOC representatives went door-to-door contacting between 40 to 50 Sunshine residents to find out if they were interested in discussing the property tax issues.
Only a few tenants attended the meeting.
"We had a representative from Community Legal Aid present to inform tenants of their rights and to also meet privately with several who had more serious individual issues," Adam Keck, lead organizer with MVOC, said. "We told them that Sunshine's property tax issues should not affect them. We emphasized that the most important thing for them to do is to continue paying their rent. That's the thing that will protect them."
MVOC representatives asked tenants whether they were interested in organizing so they may be able to have representatives at future meetings between Sunshine Inc. and the Trumbull County Treasurer's Office during discussions about the back taxes.
"They seemed interested," Keck said.
At the encouragement of the tenants, MVOC is hoping to have another similar meeting and will invite Sunshine representatives.
The City of Warren and Trumbull County created Sunshine in 1993 using federal HOME grants to provide housing for low-income residents. Sunshine obtained money from the city and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to purchase, rehab and construct homes, mostly in Warren.
Several people who attended the meeting brought a copy of a letter they reported receiving from Sunshine of Warren/Trumbull Area Inc. that assured the residents that the organization was in the process of working out a payment plan with the county treasurer.
"We understand you may have been contacted by an organization to attend a meeting on Tuesday," the letter stated. "Some tenants have notified us that they will not be attending; however, if you do and you have any questions before or after the meeting, please call us directly. We value you as a tenant and want you to have the correct information."
Keck said it is not unusual for landlords to send out such letters.
"I'm just surprised that this happened so soon," he said.
Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at large, said she spoke with a representative of MVOC and said she thought it was inappropriate for them to go from door to door talking to residents.
"Who are they (MVOC) representing?" Rucker said. "They are not representing the council or the residents. Why are they having closed door meetings in which they are talking about people's business?"
Rucker expects to have a committee meeting with Sunshine director Anthony Iannucci Jr. before the next council meeting in which he will outline the nonprofit's repayment plan.
As of late March, Sunshine had 87 properties. Of those, 33 were vacant, 23 had been vandalized and cannot be easily rehabilitated. Several of these properties were in such poor condition that they needed to be demolished. Ten were for sale. While most of the houses are in Warren, others are in Warren Township, Hubbard Township and city, Girard, Brookfield, Weathersfield, Niles and Howland.