Navy considers closing housing area in Sicily
By STEVEN BEARDSLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 20, 2014
NAPLES, Italy — The Navy is considering ending its lease for family housing in Sicily, a cost-shifting measure that would push more personnel into privately owned apartments.
More than 2,000 Navy personnel and family members currently live in the Marinai housing area, located a short drive from Naval Air Station Sigonella. The Navy command overseeing bases across Europe and Africa must now decide whether to renew the lease for five more years beginning in July 2015.
The base announced in a town hall meeting last month that the Navy is considering not picking up the lease.
“It’s really the decision of, is it more economical to send people out in town to find their own housing or to keep government-leased housing,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Johnson, a spokesman for the command, the command, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia. “And there’s a business analysis right now where they’re looking at all the factors.”
Moving families off base would allow the command to shift expenses for housing personnel from its own budget to the Navy’s larger account for overseas housing allowance.
The command has paid between $12 million and $16 million annually since 2005 for use of the land and for upkeep by the owner, Pizzarotti & Co., according to Johnson. He said a new lease would likely follow the same base rent, adjusted for inflation.
The Navy has closed other leased housing areas in Italy in recent years, although usually with the aim of forcing families into empty base housing. It closed the Mineo housing area, another community near Sigonella, in 2011, citing the $8.5 million annual price tag and the low occupancy in both Mineo and Marinai.
The command ended leases for several gated communities in the Naples area around the same time, pointing to high vacancy rates on the base support site. Last year, it began directly assigning all incoming military personnel in Naples to base housing.
Sigonella has had a direct-assignment policy since 2012, and the occupancy rate is currently around 95 percent, according to base spokesman Lt. Paul Newell.
Were Marinai to close, families would have to live in private housing on the economy, Johnson said. The region command is looking at the inventory of private rentals in the area before making a decision, he said.
The future of the Marinai property is another question, should the lease be allowed to end. The former Mineo housing area was leased by Pizzarotti & Co. to the Italian government as a housing center for asylum seekers, many of them refugees from the “Arab spring” revolts in Tunisia and other North African countries.
It has since grown notorious in local media and among immigration advocates, who say the facility puts too many people in units, with little access to health care and little progress on their cases.
Johnson said the region command doesn’t know what Pizzarotti & Co. would do with the property. An official with the firm declined to speak about the property when reached earlier this month.