SANFORD — In my hometown and across Maine, there is a serious need for more affordable housing.

With unsustainable federal debt, high taxes, high unemployment, and state budget challenges, we need to continually search for ways to stretch our limited resources and create jobs.

Recent press accounts have begun focusing on questions that have been raised about the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA), particularly the lack of fiscal oversight and how it may contribute to unreasonably high per-unit housing costs.

Maine State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and MSHA Board Chairman Peter Anastos have raised serious questions regarding the per-unit costs of MSHA projects.

Citing the Elm Terrace affordable housing project in Portland, Treasurer Poliquin has questioned how Maine taxpayers can be expected to pay $314,000 for 1,100-square-foot apartments when the average price of a single-family, 2,000-square-foot Maine home is $159,000.

Put another way, why should struggling taxpayers be asked to pay for housing that they couldn’t afford to live in themselves?

MSHA Director Dale McCormick and her allies have vehemently disputed that MSHA project costs are too high and have countered that no affordable housing project has ever been built in Maine at a cost of more than $300,000 a unit.

I don’t think that the treasurer’s concerns should be so summarily dismissed by the director.

Especially since the treasurer asserts that the per-unit costs for Gilman Place in Waterville were $292,000. Contrast this with single-family home prices in Waterville.

Anybody struggling to stay in their home or find one in these tough economic times knows that $314,000 or $292,000 per-unit is higher than $159,000. Unfortunately, there is not enough focus on the 6,500 Mainers on the MSHA waiting list for affordable housing. It is critical that we bring costs down to get more of them off the list while considering the difficult economic climate we all find ourselves in.

Think of how many people are currently stretched to the limit trying to hold on to their $159,000 home while paying taxes to help provide housing for others.

I hope that legislators who have not yet learned all the facts will avoid the same knee jerk response that followed when we raised questions about the Maine Turnpike Authority and its former executive director, Paul Violette (now the subject of a criminal investigation).

You may recall that back when the new majority started raising questions about MTA spending, defenders of the status quo were quick to call it a witch hunt or say that the concerns were overblown. Our motives were impugned and called into question before our inquiry was completed.

We pushed forward in a fair, thorough fashion focused on facts, not the people involved. In the case of the MSHA, it seems that it would be terribly difficult to defend the excessive costs that are being funded with taxpayer dollars.

Rather than impugn and question the motives of those who are seeking transparency, we should focus on effectively measuring whether our tax dollars can be stretched further to help people on the waiting list for affordable housing.

That begs answers to several important questions, including:

To whom is the MSHA director accountable?

Who provides the fiscal oversight?

Is the process effective and transparent?

Can we make the process better to ensure that scarce public resources can serve more people?

Is the process competitive and open to all developers?

The housing needs of people in Sanford and across Maine demand that we pursue answers to these “policy” and “oversight” questions. We will seek them through a fair, thoughtful and deliberative process.

– Special to The Press Herald