October 25, 2013

Maine Voices: Audit results renew confidence in MaineHousing’s performance, agency head says

Reviews affirmed that the home heating, Section 8 and weatherization programs are being run efficiently.

By John Gallagher, MaineHousing director

AUGUSTA — A year ago, when I became director of MaineHousing, the agency was experiencing a dramatic transition. Audits, inspections and “failures” were words being associated with MaineHousing instead of our mission to provide decent, safe and affordable housing to Maine’s low-income residents.

about the author

John Gallagher is director of MaineHousing in Augusta.

The Section 8 units we oversaw were being inspected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure that they were safe for the tenants living in them.

Our Board of Commissioners wanted that assurance, and it also sought confidence that multimillion-dollar computer systems being developed for MaineHousing programs were worth the money being spent on them. Independent audits were scheduled, and the results are back – and worth noting.

The audits’ positive outcomes provide confidence to our staff, our board and the public in the work of MaineHousing. It also clears any questions regarding the work of two computer consulting firms we used.

THE FIRST AUDIT

Our board requested the first audit to look at two major computer programs that were designed for MaineHousing by two Maine firms.

Concerns were raised about the costs of and need for the systems used to manage the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance and Weatherization Assistance programs. CohnReznick, an auditing firm specializing in technology, was selected to perform the independent review of the systems.

CohnReznick concluded that the software programs were needed and that the costs were reasonable. It said the LIHEAP software “is a proven solution,” that “MaineHousing should continue to use” the system and that the “ongoing support costs appeared to be reasonable.”

The auditors determined that the weatherization software program “was initially designed and developed to meet the needs of the U.S. Department of Energy weatherization program and an anticipated nationwide consumer market. A significant expenditure, primarily with DOE funds, was made to develop (it). MaineHousing should continue to use (it), as other alternatives either do not meet DOE requirements or are not economically feasible.”

The two software systems were designed by Joseph Associates of Hallowell, led by John Joseph. Additional consulting services for the weatherization system were provided by Lynn Kinney of Kinney Consulting & Associates.

THE SECOND AUDIT

The second audit was performed by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, and unlike most OPEGA reviews, this was not prompted by some specific concern.

The agency evaluated our administration of the federal home heating and weatherization assistance programs to provide suggestions for improvement. Both programs were found to be well run, and we are implementing a number of constructive suggestions that were given.

After nine months of thoroughly examining how LIHEAP was administered, “OPEGA concluded that overall, MaineHousing administers (it) in an effective and efficient manner.” The state agency suggested enhancing the controls used to prevent and detect abuse, and the Government Oversight Committee and I have discussed the costs and benefits of implementing preventative controls.

For the weatherization program, OPEGA found that “overall, the program is well operated and in alignment with federal expectations. The households that are weatherized reflect program priorities and requirements ... and clients are very satisfied with the services received.” The agency also noted that MaineHousing already was taking steps to strengthen program performance.

THE THIRD AUDIT

The third audit, conducted earlier this year, was HUD’s Section 8 Management Assessment Program review, and was a follow-up to last year’s unit inspections.

We were recognized as a “100 percent, high performer” for our management of the Section 8 housing choice voucher program. This is the highest score possible.

We have worked very hard over the past year and a half to get this program back on track. We appreciate this recognition of our efforts, and we will continue to strive for high standards and efficiencies.

Our staff managed the extra work created by these audits, and we are pleased with the results. Our board had questions about the computer costs, and the audit provided the assurance the board needed.

We are glad to have independent confirmation that we are doing a good job with LIHEAP and weatherization efforts, and appreciate the fresh look and the resulting recommendations. And HUD’s review recognizes a remarkable turnaround.

We have had other successes as well. This past year, we created 46 percent more affordable housing units at a cost 36 percent lower than the year before.

All these results underscore the dedication of our staff and board to providing efficient, quality services to the people of Maine.

— Special to the Press Herald

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