Peter Merrill, the director of communications at the Maine State Housing Authority, recently wrote that increased control for the Board of Commissioners in proposed legislation LD 1778 is already in place. Unlike virtually all other entities, however, MSHA management is not accountable to its board.

Merrill listed Section 8 rules, housing rules and the budget as examples of controls in place and under the power of the board. He, however, failed to mention the most important aspect of these rules: they have virtually no enforcement powers.

Take Section 8 rules, for example. Failure rates for inspections of Section 8 units in the Norway area exceeded 40 percent, in not only the initial inspections, but for the re-inspections as well. This horrific situation was uncovered last fall by the Advertiser Democrat newspaper and had existed for four years.

The board can toughen up the rules governing this program, but has little power to do anything if the rules continue to be broken.

Likewise, the once-a-year nuclear option of disapproving the budget and shutting down the entire agency is hardly sound management and totally inappropriate in dealing with smaller problems.

Recently the board has been looking at a carbon trading program that MSHA has initiated, where it proposed to sell carbon credits created by weatherizing homes with federal money. That has never been done before and nearly $6 million has been invested in software, consultants and staffing for the program in conjunction with LIHEAP and weatherization programs.


Much of that software was available for free from the Department of Energy.

Since MSHA embarked on the venture, the Chicago Climate Exchange collapsed, when prices of voluntary carbon credits plummeted to five cents per ton from a high of $7 per ton. The program will need $3.2 billion for weatherization funds and an additional $750 million in subsidies over 20 years.

Members of the board are questioning if such an obviously volatile venture capital business is appropriate for a housing authority, as well as from where those billions of dollars in funding will be reliably sourced over such a long period of time.

It is the feeling of many on the Board of Commissioners that ventures such as that have taken MSHA’s focus and resources away from its mission of providing safe, affordable housing for those in need.

It is extremely difficult to discern why the agency has spent so much time and money on a speculative venture, social engineering and advertising while literally thousands wait for housing.

The board also has concerns about the well-publicized gift cards, entertainment, catering, travel and the use of expensive bed-and-breakfast businesses for meetings, while we pay $750,000 annual rent for our building. Nearly $1 million was spent on travel and education in 2010.


The Office of Program Evaluation and Accountability is looking into some, but not all, of those items and is not investigating “affordable” housing approaching $300,000 per unit.

The Maine Turnpike Authority garnered much of its financial information from a forensic outside audit ordered by the board that looked at everything questionable. Incredibly, the MSHA Board of Commissioners does not even possess the power to require such an audit be performed.

I have chaired a number of nonprofit organizations and for-profit boards and have never seen a situation where a board lacks such basic governance ability. In fact, this is the only state of Maine board in this situation. Citizens groups, including the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition and Associated General Contractors, have come out in support of the legislation.

The legislation is about running MSHA in the same proven manner as state agencies, businesses and nonprofits everywhere.

Regardless of whom the executive director may be, or which party may be in power, the universally accepted practices in LD 1778 need to be instituted so that the Maine State Housing Authority may be run with consensus and accountability.

Peter Anastos is chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Maine State Housing Authority.

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