Putting houses in order: CHIP homes put to rights

SANDUSKY Hammers pounded against the outside of Lillian Thomas' home. As the thuds re
May 24, 2010



Hammers pounded against the outside of Lillian Thomas' home.

As the thuds reverberated through the quaint, rustic-style living room and into the kitchen, the cupboards rattled and her drinking glasses clanked against each other.

Nonetheless, Thomas sported an ear-to-ear smile reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat. She just shouted over the commotion.

"I'm ecstatic!" she yelled. "Sometimes I pull up into my driveway and just watch and admire. I couldn't be happier."

After three years of frustration and unkept promises, the city's housing department has finally begun to repair its image and Thomas' home.

Between 2004 and 2006, the city's Community Housing Improvement Program, or CHIP, was rocked with scandal. City housing officials stole hundreds of thousands in grant funds from the city, while providing shoddy repairs or no repairs at all to city residents.

In total, 68 homes received poor repairs -- or no repairs at all -- and those corrupt officials caused upward of $1 million in damages to residents' houses.

But under the guidance of Sandusky's chief building inspector, George Poulos, the city is finally making amends. In the past two weeks, the city has begun making repairs to those homes.

"Things are going very well. I'm very pleased," Poulos said. "But this is just the tip. We have a lot of work to do."

Poulos and his staff have begun making repairs to five houses with "emergency" problems -- leaking roofs, no heat, no hot water, no siding -- which could cause major safety concerns as winter approaches.

But they have met with dozens of the residents and plan to provide as many repairs as possible throughout the next few years.

"It's just the right thing to do," he said.

The city has identified Mark Warren, the director of the city's CHIP program, as the main culprit for the housing scandal. City officials said Warren billed the city for expensive repairs and didn't adequately fix the problems or did no work at all. They estimate he and his partners stole hundreds of thousands of dollars -- maybe more.

Meanwhile, residents who only needed several thousand dollars worth of fixes in 2004 now need upward of $50,000 in fixes because shoddy workmanship led to many homes suffering even more disrepair.

Poulos said he was "shocked" by the poor craftsmanship of the repairs done between 2004 and 2006.

"I found nothing was acceptable. Nothing," he said. "I'm just appalled by what happened in the past. Those people (who caused this calamity) had no couth. I just -- the Lord will take care of those people. I don't know what else to say."

On Friday, Poulos and his staff went door to door trying to contact the final 17 residents they have yet to reach.

Because much of the information on these residents was filed between 2004 and 2006, some of the people no longer live in the same house or have the same phone number.

But those who have been contacted expressed satisfaction that their problems were finally being fixed.

One woman wrote a letter to the city, thanking Poulos and his staff for remedying the situation. Mildred Henry, an elderly woman on Maple Avenue who couldn't do the repairs herself, said she was "so excited" they would finally fix her house.

Thomas had the siding removed from her home, and the original contractors said she had asbestos, a deadly toxin, hovering above her son's bedroom. She expressed relief that the situation was almost ending.

"I've been waiting years for this," she said. "I'm very, very happy."