AUGUSTA – Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will arrive in Maine next week to begin inspecting about 3,500 low-income housing units, the acting director of the Maine State Housing Authority said Friday.

“It’s a unique event,” Peter Merrill said of the statewide inspection. The inspections are expected to take a few months, he said.

The federal action is the result of revelations last year of subsidized housing in the Norway area that fell far below minimum sanitation and safety standards. The problems led U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to ask the federal agency to review the Section 8 housing subsidy program in Maine.

Some initial federal inspections have been completed, and Collins has said they show systemic quality problems and oversight failures by the Maine State Housing Authority, which manages the program.

The housing authority has been reforming the Section 8 program since the problems in Norway came to light and prompted internal audits and inspections, said Deborah Turcotte, the authority’s spokeswoman.

The authority, for example, is re-educating landlords about the standards and is moving administration of the entire program in-house rather than continuing to rely on private community-based agencies to oversee the housing, she said. 

– By Staff Writer John Richardson