Friday, December 23, 2011

MSHA: is it time to come clean?

In this recent post, we wondered how the MSHA funded Elm Street “affordable housing project” (yeah, that’s a good one!) could have quickly gone from a projected cost of $314,000 per unit to an approved cost of $265,000 per unit.

The facts are becoming clearer, and they all point to ‘someone,’ as we speculated earlier, at MSHA.

MSHA held a board meeting this week, on Tuesday the 20th, and this very subject came up.  Dale McCormick, the Director of MSHA, provided a rather low key explanation.  It wasn’t so much about reducing the cost of the project as it was about increasing the number of units in the existing building, meaning the average size of the ‘affordable units’ was decreased to lower average cost to politically acceptable levels.  The total cost of the project, while lowered a few percent from the worst case n number, is still significantly higher than the initial estimate.

This is not unlike the property tax game, where two variables are involved: mil rate, and assessed value.  Periodic reassessments, that drive housing values significantly higher, allow local officials to ‘lower’ the mil rate, and claim they are somehow lowering the tax burden on local residents.  This isn’t lying in the literal sense, but it’s close enough for horse-shoes.

The other items cited to lower the final Elm Street per unit price include a reduction in ‘developer fees,’ and ‘value engineering.’

These terms are nebulouse, which makes them perfectly suited to the purpose of so-called public servants trying to squirm out from under a very heavy rock.

We’ll watch for a detailed written summary from the Authority, but until we see it, you can bet the monkey is only sitting on one back, and said monkey was whispering in MSHA’s ear for some time, to no avail.  Here’s hoping the monkey is listened to in the future.

Or is it time to clean up?

At this same meeting, an embarrassing subject arose: reports of squalid conditions in subsidized ‘affordable housing’ in Norway, Maine, involving what most would call a slum landlord, who would often take advantage of taxpayer provided rent payments via government programs.  And relatively helpless tenants.

Follow the references here to get a ‘picture’ of what’s been going on:

State stops Section 8...

“I'll tell you right now, the people we're dealing with today should not be in new construction," she said. "You should see these houses when they move out.” She cited trash, dirty “flushes” and other unsanitary conditions brought on by tenants. “It's not fair; there's not much we can do about it,” she said.

Pratt no more

NORWAY — Landlord Madeline Pratt will no longer be allowed to participate in the Section 8 housing program, state officials confirmed on Friday. Pratt's daughter Beverly Kimball, who helps to manage her mother's apartments, said that the state is not giving them a fair chance to bring their apartments into compliance.


Imagine renting an apartment where, when a neighbor flushes the toilet, waste bubbles up in the bathroom sink. Or living in a third floor apartment with the only way to get out being down the stairs because the exterior fire escape is barely attached ... its nails pulling out of the wall. Or living with everything you own plugged in via various power strips and extension cords to an outlet outside of your apartment.

Please note that Avesta Housing, headed by Brunswick’s own Dana Totman, is a leading player in this drama.  Dana is often seen in various civic leadership posts, including the board guiding the highly successful MRRA efforts to turn the former Naval Air Station into a vibrant and dynamic economic engine.  As if anyone in the area wants such a thing.

We’re confident Dana will have a cogent and defensible explanation of how his organization has been victimized and made the subject of a witch hunt in these reports.  We’re biting our tongue really hard right now; we’ll just promise to print his defense here when it is issued.

MSHA and Totman are no doubt finding the way ahead more treacherous than they have previously encountered, since the Norway SNAFU has been elevated to federal attention levels.

Senator Susan Collins was contacted by local Norway officials.  Here’s a report from another source:

The Maine Wire has obtained a copy of a letter sent today by U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, asking for an investigation into the recently-reported Section 8 housing violations at an affordable housing complex in Norway.

From the letter:

“I am writing to request your assistance in investigating the property inspection and fire code enforcement practices for federally subsidized properties in Oxford County, Maine. I have been contact by the Fire Chief of the Town of Paris, Maine, about serious safety violations in units that receive federal payments under the Section 8 program.

You can find the letter from the Senator here.

What’s the old saying about may you live in interesting times?

In this case, I think we’ll get our wish.


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1 comment:

  1. That is good to know then. Avoiding hazards through safety compliance can really be worth it along with having the right PPE or protective equipment and providing the right safety training for the workers.