One 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 people.
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 multi-million-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 our staff, our Board, and the public confidence in the work of MaineHousing. It also clears any questions regarding the work of two computer consulting firms we used: Joseph Associates, Inc. and Kinney Consulting & Associates LLC.
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 and necessity of the systems used to manage the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Weatherization Assistance Program. CohnReznick LLP, a auditing firm specializing in technology, was selected to perform the independent review.
The firm concluded that the programs were needed and that the costs were reasonable. They said the LIHEAP software program “is a proven solution,” that “MaineHousing should continue to use” the system, and that the “on-going 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, Inc. of Hallowell. The firm is led by John Joseph. Additional consulting services for the weatherization system were provided by Lynn Kinney of Kinney Consulting & Associates LLC.
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. OPEGA evaluated our administration of the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the federal Weatherization Assistance Program 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 the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, “OPEGA concluded that overall MaineHousing administers [it] in an effective and efficient manner.” OPEGA suggested enhancing 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.” OPEGA also noted that MaineHousing already was taking steps to strengthen program performance.
The third audit was HUD’s Section 8 Management Assessment Program review conducted earlier this year; 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 they 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 that is 36 percent lower than the year before.
All these results underscore the dedication of our staff and board to provide efficient, quality services to the people of Maine.