Tuesday, November 15, 2011

MSHA, affordable housing, and McKeen Street

We attended the MSHA board meeting today (Tuesday, November 15), and will do our best, which usually isn’t good enough, to keep this report short.

Before we begin the report, however, an item we forgot to include in the ‘lagging thoughts’ post.  (See why ‘our best’ isn’t usually good enough?)

Leave it to the government to conclude that $300,000 apartments are ‘affordable,’ when the median housing price in Maine is well below $200,000.  Ponder these figures in the context of this recent report, which addresses former Navy housing in Brunswick:

Schott said prices for homes in the McKeen Street tract would likely range from $110,000 to $145,000, where most units have three bedrooms.  (emphasis ours)
“It is definitely affordable housing in that range,” Schott said. “There’s not much in that price range in town.”

It occurred to us in this context that most of us wouldn’t think of Cadillacs, BMWs, and Volvos as ‘affordable transportation.’  Or Mercedes Benz, for that matter.

But if government buys these vehicles, and then turns them over to you and I for say, 25% of the purchase price, guess what – they suddenly seem very affordable, don’t they? 

Which brings us to the central question here: when a bureaucrat uses the word ‘affordable,’ what do they mean? 

Do they mean ‘affordable’ to the provider, in this case the government, which really means we taxpayers, compared to prices in the open marketplace, or do they mean ‘affordable’ to the recipient, after government subsidies are applied?  Based on our experience to date, including the meeting today, we are convinced the former is irrelevant in deference to the latter.

So let us summarize our experience today.  The ‘open to the public’ meeting was to begin at 9:00 AM.  Concerned about the parking situation, we arrived at 8:20, and secured our spot.  After 10 minutes or so inspecting the interior of our truckster, we decided to enter the MSHA building, thinking we might get to find a seat in the meeting room and have a cup of coffee.

Dream on, reader.  Upon entering the building, we were asked to sign in, and were given a badge, and then told to wait in the lobby area with other arriving members of the public.  This did not create a positive first impression.  At least we weren’t given full Hazmat suits to put on.

40 minutes later, at 9:10, we were escorted to the elevator and up to the meeting, which was already underway, it appeared.  It was standing room only, with perhaps 30 or so general public showing up.

We could be wrong, but our sense is that this is a modern day record for such meetings.

So – what happened?  In our view, MSHA staff got a real surprise from the Commissioners in attendance, and also heard from several members of the public, your correspondent included, about project cost profiles that are way out of whack with broader real estate market figures.

Our overall impression is this.  As we’ve told you before, we spent our career in the defense industry, and were frequently pummeled by government officials and the public alike over “$400 hammers” and “$600 toilet seats.”  Almost without exception, those costs, if even true, are entirely due to government regulations for these items.

Still, we were a business that competed with other businesses, and we had to make a profit to survive.  Over the years, we improved our quality and cost profiles to make ourselves more competitive, and to ensure our SURVIVAL.

Today’s meeting revealed an MSHA culture totally devoid of competitive challenges, profit/loss considerations, and survival instincts.  You couldn’t avoid the impression this is an organization that believes there is not a single threat to their existence, and even more so, with a public mandate to keep doing what they do exactly as they have been doing it.

In other words, we saw another concrete example of why state and federal governments are in a fiscal crisis beyond any in our history.

At least as we see it.  And we’re doing our best to watch.


  1. Mr. Poppycock,

    Thank you so much for your first person reporting of the gathering in Augusta.

    The body politic is more informed as a result of your efforts.

    There are folks out here in CyberSpace who are watching what you do, and we believe that what you do is admirable.

    More money than anyone would have imagined is flowing through this AUTHORITY. Until very recently, no one was much paying attention because no one was AWARE of what was going on.



  2. We're grateful for your gratitude, Frenostat.

    We wish we could say we're glad we went to the meeting. In the 'micro' sense we are; in the 'macro' sense we aren't, and we suspect we don't need to explain the difference.

    There's something perplexing about seeing the worst, and having your suspicions overwhelmed by reality.