Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Affordable Housing: Getting a Sense of Scale

As you may recall, we’ve been following events at the Maine State Housing Authority, and it’s been a ‘learning process,’ to be polite.  We’ve now attended five board meetings, including one this morning.

The more you look into such things, the more layers of the onion fall away, and the more involved, expansive, and convoluted you discover the entire subject is.  Of course, you might say; it’s the government, and they’re here to help us.

You may have read recently of the internecine legal battles going on between Rosa Scarcelli, a candidate for Governor in 2010, and other members of her family.  They’ve been operating quite a sizable empire of government subsidized (our non-PC straight talk for ‘affordable’) housing, and apparently it generates enough wealth to spur serious family squabbles and litigation.  Moreover, it apparently creates ample opportunities for shoddy property management.

Rosa herself operates 2500 units, according to her web site, in Maine, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.  We don’t know if her firm has ‘non-profit’ status with the IRS; the website doesn’t say.  Scarcelli operates three properties in Brunswick alone, all in the Baribeau Drive vicinity.  Other ‘affordable housing’ firms operate properties in Brunswick as well, so it’s probably fair to say that you regularly pass government subsidized housing whether you realize it or not.

Avesta Housing, which you may have heard of, does have non-profit status.  It operates about 1300 units in 47 properties in York and Cumberland Counties.  Avesta is headed by Brunswick’s own Dana Totman, a former Deputy Director at MSHA.

To repeat, the more you follow such matters, the more you discover just how pervasive government is in all sorts of aspects of our daily lives.  And very often, the government involvement is far less than obvious to the casual observer.  We have long believed that if we were to catalog quasi-governmental entities in our area, you’d be absolutely astonished.  And one of these days we shall do so.

For now, however, we just want to pass along a local data point for purposes of illustration.  Here in town, we have the Brunswick Housing Authority (BHA), and we have no idea exactly how it relates (or not) to town government; in fact it may not relate at all.

That aside, here is some info provided by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition.  It states that ‘BHA has 276 housing units in its portfolio,’ and that ‘BHA also administers 453 Section 8 vouchers.’  The latter is rental assistance paid to private landlords on behalf of qualified clients.

We’re not sure what you might have guessed if we asked you ‘cold’ to guess the size of such operations, but we’re guessing you probably would have come in well below reality.  We’ve certainly been surprised by what we have discovered.

Keep these facts in mind the next time you try to come to grips with the sweep and fiscal scale of your government, and why they seem to be having budget, revenue, and debt problems on a historic scale.

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