January 8, 2012

Bill Nemitz: MaineHousing failure – not the fix – will likely be focus

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While her random inspections never took her to any of the properties cited by the newspaper, Hawkins confessed to clearing old violations in other locations based only on a landlord's assurance they'd been fixed, not bothering to move furniture to check electrical outlets and sometimes looking the other way out of sympathy for both tenants and landlords.

"As a result, she admitted overlooking some items that should have failed," the report states.

The report also cites various communication breakdowns between MaineHousing and Avesta. When MaineHousing performed annual re-inspections of Hawkins' work from 2008 through 2011, for example, it failed almost 40 percent of the units she had passed.

"MaineHousing worked immediately with (Hawkins) to make sure changes were made to bring the units into HQS (Housing Quality Standards) compliance," the report states. "But recurring performance issues were not specifically called out or addressed."

In other words, despite clear evidence that Hawkins' performance left much to be desired, neither MaineHousing nor Avesta did anything about it.

At least until now.

Upon reading the Advertiser-Democrat article, "it was clear to me that there was a failure in our system of quality control in the administration of the voucher program in Norway that allowed for these conditions to pass inspection," McCormick said in Friday's press release. "We are undertaking the bold changes that are required to address this problem and will follow through on the recommendations outlined in the report."

Those include an immediate end to Section 8 work by Avesta in Oxford and Androscoggin counties -- MaineHousing now oversees those areas "in house" and eventually will take over all such work from Avesta and 15 other contracted agencies statewide.

The authority also pledged to beef up its inspections -- particularly of "problem" buildings, create a monthly tracking system for all violations and complaints, require photos of all inspection sites and hold formal sessions to educate tenants and landlords about their respective rights, to name but a few of the fixes.

But make no mistake about it. As MaineHousing's lengthy mea culpa makes the rounds this week, the long knives are about to get a whole lot longer.

In a press release issued just over a week ago, State Treasurer Poliquin claimed that MaineHousing's staff revealed at a recent board meeting that they "had known about these squalid conditions for at least two years."

I attended that meeting and never heard any such thing. But if Poliquin was on one of his facts-be-damned riffs before the Norway report was completed, imagine what he and his comrades-in-politics will do with 17 pages of self-scrutiny by the agency they claim can do no right.

"The timing is unfortunate," conceded Peter Merrill, MaineHousing's communications and planning director, in an interview Saturday. "But if you're going to have a calamity, I think we did a good job. We dropped everything. We rushed over there. ... I think we are taking all of the appropriate steps to respond."

That well may be.

Just don't expect it to matter.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@mainetoday.com

 

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