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At our December 20 meeting, the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) board of commissioners questioned the reasons for the horrid living conditions in some Section 8 apartments in the Oxford County towns of Norway and Paris ("Slumlords, shoddy oversight, tax dollars...living on section 8" - Advertiser Democrat). For years, some of our most disadvantaged Maine families with no other housing options have been living with septic backups in sinks, collapsed ceilings, black mold, bats, exposed electrical wires, no smoke detectors, rotten floors, and falling fire escapes. To make matters worse, the board learned that some tenants have been threatened with eviction by the landlords if they reported these dangerous and unhealthy conditions.
In the Section 8 voucher program, MSHA receives federal taxpayer dollars from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to pay most of the monthly rent for thousands of Maine families-in-need looking for safe, warm places to live. For York, Cumberland, Androscoggin and Oxford Counties, MSHA hires non-profit Avesta Housing to administer the program, including inspecting the apartments to ensure that living conditions meet HUD guidelines. In 2011, MSHA paid Avesta $619,000 of taxpayer money for those services. MSHA then monitors Avesta, including apartment spot checks, to make sure Avesta is doing its job.
At our board meeting, we commissioners learned that the MSHA and Avesta staffs had known about these squalid conditions for at least two years. Norway and Paris town officials had asked both organizations for help in bringing these apartments up to acceptable living standards, apparently to no avail. When asked, the MSHA staff could not explain why these serious problems had not been corrected for two years. We were told that a report is forthcoming in January.
The Norway and Paris officials also contacted the office of U.S. Senator Susan Collins for assistance. On December 22, Senator Collins wrote to HUD asking for an investigation into the matter ("Senator Collins asks feds to investigate MSHA/Avesta Section 8 issue" - The Maine Wire).
The new board at Maine State Housing Authority is committed to improving how the organization is trying to help thousands of disadvantaged Maine families find safe apartments to call home. Wisely spending taxpayer dollars is part of that process.
Maine State Treasurer
For related information and media, visit www.maine.gov/treasurer/outreach.