Thursday, November 10, 2011

MSHA….let the borrowed OPM roll

(Ed. Note: For the unitiated, ‘OPM,’ pronounced like o-pi-em, is an abbreviation for other people’s money.)

(Ed. Note: the above photos are of various ‘affordable housing’ projects around the country, which is to say government subsidized housing.  Their relevance will become clear, hopefully, in what follows.)

Let’s begin with two questions to stimulate your curiosity:

1)  Do you know what the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) is and does?

2)  Do you know how big a purse they control the strings of?

We’d be a bit surprised if you do know about them, and we damn well expect you to be surprised when you find out how much funding they control.  We were beyond surprised ourselves…we were stunned.  And we don’t stun all that easily, given where we’ve been and what we’ve seen over the years, both in Washington and Augusta.

MSHA is an ‘Authority.’  Where have we heard that term before?  Oh yeah, right here locally, where we have the MRRA – the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.  In it’s former life, you may recall, MRRA was an Agency, but has been promoted to government big league status: an AUTHORITY!

To explain what the Maine State Housing Authority is, let’s go right to the source, Maine Statute (State Law, that is), which begins with these foreboding words:

§4722. Maine State Housing Authority established; powers, duties and restrictions

The Maine State Housing Authority is established and is a public body corporate and politic and an instrumentality of the State. [1987, c. 737, Pt. A, §2 (NEW); 1987, c. 737, Pt. C, §106 (NEW); 1989, c. 6, (AMD); 1989, c. 9, §2 (AMD); 1989, c. 104, Pt. C, §§8, 10 (AMD).]

1. Powers and duties.  In addition to the powers granted by section 4741, the Maine State Housing Authority shall have the powers and duties to: (said powers and duties are enumerated in sub-paragraphs A thru Z followed by AA thru DD; see link above to read the item in totality)

(don’t fail to take a glimpse at section 4741, titled “Powers generally,” which lists 18 separate items under that heading.)

If you want your head to spin, your eyes to cross, your tongue to twist, your hair to catch on fire, your knickers in a knot, and your stomach to wretch, try reading and understanding all referenced and relevant sections.  And when you’re finished, please send us a 500 word taxpayer summary. 

We know there are qualified counsel among our readers; what a great little homework exercise for these “interested students.”  We promise to publish worthy submissions.

We ourselves haven’t read all the statutory language, because the details are not germane to the points to be made here.  Just the references in each sub-paragraph, parenthetical or otherwise, are enough to keep a law-school class busy for a year, let alone the overworked staff here at Poppycock Media.

Can you imagine how many state and federal bureaucrats, politicians, lobbyists, ‘non-profits,’ assorted do-gooders, busybodies, law firms, and government hangers-on were involved in the construction of this set of ‘powers and duties,’ complete with all the references? While at the same time making sure the Authority was not subject to the oversight of the Governor or the Legislature?

Now multiply that thought by 50, since we’re confident that every state in the Union has a similar ‘Authority,’ a ‘body politic’ and ‘instrumentality of the state,’ that operates beyond the oversight of the elected representatives of the people.

Maybe it’s just us, but this seems like the Fantasyland version of a recipe for abuse, just waiting to grow government, make new friends, and pick winners and losers.  And perhaps, just perhaps, a healthy dose of crony capitalism thrown in for good measure.  Along with tax loopholes, tax breaks, and other forms of ‘corporate welfare.’

Take note, please, all you big government social and economic justice advocates.  And those concerned about the 99% v. 1% ‘debate.’

As fate would have it, we know some people who are ‘in the know’ on this subject and many others, and on your behalf, we’ve dug  into the facts attaching to the MSHA.  It turns out the results of last year’s election have caused eyes to be cast on government activities that have been operating with out much interest by our leaders for decades, like the MSHA, the Maine Turnpike Authority, and others.  Which is a very good thing, given their scale and reach both politically and fiscally.

Here’s some summary data we’ve obtained. The numbers that follow are from a report prepared by the MSHA titled "Federal Housing funds at work in Maine".

MEDIAN HOME PRICE:  Maine:  $177,500.  First Congressional District:  $221,900.  Second District: $138,000

MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME:  Maine: $45,734. 1st District: $52,328: 2nd District: $39,365.

INCOME NEEDED TO AFFORD MEDIAN HOME PRICE:  Maine:  $60,450; 1st District: $75,550; 2nd District: $47,000.

HOUSEHOLDS UNABLE TO AFFORD MEDIAN PRICE:  Maine: 63%; 1st District: 69%; 2nd District: 58%.

AVERAGE TWO BEDROOM RENT:  Maine: $722; 1st District: $840; 2nd District: $611.

HOUSEHOLDS UNABLE TO AFFORD AVERAGE TWO BEDROOM RENT:  Maine: 55%; 1st District: 55%; 2nd District: 54%.


(Ed. Note: yes, that’s BILLION with a B, and that works out to an average of roughly $850 per person for every man, woman, and child in Maine.  That’s just federal dollars; we’ve got homework to do to determine how much other funding they spend per year!)


(Ed. Note: Brunswick, in round numbers, is about one-sixtieth of Maine’s population.  If the ‘homes served’ were evenly distributed across the population, 1,400 of them would be in Brunswick.  That’s about 6 times the number of housing units in the former Navy housing complex on McKeen Street.  Think about that as you drive around town, and what it means about the scope of state and federal government involvement in our existence.  1,400 homes in Brunswick alone!)



   -ELM TERRACE, PORTLAND:  Projected cost of $314,000 per unit.

   -ASH ST., LEWISTON:  Projected costs of $273,000 per unit.

   -EMERY PROJECT, BIDDEFORD:  Cost per unit  $284,000.

   -MAINE HALL, BANGOR:  Cost per unit:  $214,000.

   -GILMAN PROJECT, WATERVILLE:  Cost per unit $292,000.

   -LOFTS, BATES MILL, LEWISTON:  Cost per unit: $199,375.

Think about those numbers for a long, hard moment; government “affordable housing” whose price puts it beyond the reach of more than two-thirds of Maine residents!  And keep in mind that 40% of every dollar the feds spend these days is created out of thin air (printed, or borrowed.)

The units referred to above are estimated to run in the range of 1,000 to 1,200 square feet each.  (We’d hope that “lofts” are less than that, but hey, when you’re the government, why skimp?)

In round numbers then, the price per square foot runs in the range of $200 to about $300 per square foot.  And this is in keeping with MSHA’s mission of creating ‘affordable housing,’ at least in government terms, we must note. 

We invite you to consider what your own domicile might be worth at say, $250 per square foot, and then ask how that compares with what you paid for it, and what you think it could sell for today.  As for us, we would take the money and run if we could get it, and we bet you’d gladly do the same. Our number would be well beyond what we imagined we might get in our wildest dreams, before the housing market tanked.

If you had a Billion dollars a year to dispense in Maine, plus as yet unidentified additional sums, do you think you’d have lots of good friends?  And people gathering around your door at all hours of the day and night, promising to ‘go forth and do good’ if you’d just send them some of that little nest-egg?  And maybe building careers that allow them to prosper off the un-overseen flow of OPM?

Now some seemingly obvious questions.  What about mobile homes, the preferred affordable housing for many Maine citizens? 

Or factory built apartment modules?  What are the protocols for moving people along once they’ve had some number of years in these units, or is this a permanent ‘entitlement?’  Etc, etc, et cetera.

What about excess vacant housing stock on the open market?  Including vacated base housing here in Brunswick?  Why isn’t that good enough?

Now the real burning question: just how deep do you think the fiscal, monetary, and economic hole we are digging for ourselves goes?  And what chance do you think we have of ever getting ourselves out of the hole?

For those of you with the gumption to follow  up on the subject, here’s an article to read:

And then there’s this:

This item contains this info:

The first MSHA board meeting with its new members is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 15 at the MSHA offices at 353 Water Street in Augusta.  All Authority board meetings are open to the public.  For the first time in memory, the meetings will be audio recorded. (Ed. Note: street address has been corrected.)

We hope you’ll consider coming to this meeting; we intend to do so, and we know others who plan to as well.  We expect this to be an ‘ah-ha’ moment for the leadership of MSHA, which has in all likelihood gotten a free pass from the taxpaying public for more years than you can count on your hands and feet.

We expect the entertainment and enlightenment level to be in the upper decile of such events.  Please join us, and bring some friends.

If only Frosty’s were still in business, we’d bring donuts for everyone, affordable or not.

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