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Secretary of Army says during visit to Fort Bragg that military housing improvements still a priority

Ryan McCarthy, the U.S. Secretary of the Army, walks into the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters alongside Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue during a visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020.

ALEXANDER BURNETT/U.S. ARMY

By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer | Published: September 3, 2020

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — About a year after visiting Fort Bragg, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy returned to the post Wednesday to get an update on military housing renovations. 

Following a Reuters investigation and congressional testimony about concerns of mold, lead paint and bug infestations in military housing at installations across the nation, military leaders and housing providers vowed they would address the issue. 

“What you saw over time was an abdication of responsibility because we outsourced this to a corporation, and that’s the danger when you set up these public-private partnerships, and over time, you get lazy,” McCarthy said. “As an institution, we got lazy and the wakeup call happened about two years ago. It was embarrassing and it was awful.” 

Fort Bragg entered into a 50-year housing partnership with its current housing provider, Corvias, in 2003. 

Once problems with housing were raised, McCarthy said the Army has held Corvias accountable during the past two financial quarters by requiring the housing provider to borrow $350 million to invest in footprints, or military housing, it is responsible for across the country. 

Part of that investment includes more than $100 million for Fort Bragg that includes $25.2 million for about 132 homes in the Pope Army Airfield area that were built in the 1960s. 

The investment includes renovations to “gut the homes” to the interior studs to provide a more open floor plan, installing new electrical and energy-efficient mechanical systems, updating heating and air conditioning ventilation systems, and updating flooring. 

McCarthy toured one of those homes in the process of renovation Wednesday in the Pope neighborhood, near Skytrain Drive and Liberator Street. 

McCarthy said he’s encouraged by the activity but results are what he cares about. 

“This is like checking the temperature,” he said. “We’re not there yet.” 

Before the tour of the renovated home near Skytrain Drive and Liberator Street, McCarthy said he saw a different home in a “different situation” that “needed a lot of work.” 

“You see a lot of work being done, but until it’s complete, people aren’t going to be satisfied with what they have,” McCarthy said. “So I think that it’s good to see activity, but results matter.” 

During the past year, Department of Defense leaders from each branch have worked to submit a tenant bill of rights for Congress’ approval, of which 15 out of 18 “rights” are agreed upon. 

McCarthy said of the remaining three “rights” being worked on, one involves dispute resolutions that would allow the soldier and his or her family to work with the housing provider. 

“The challenge of that is putting a third party entity in place that can stand between the company,” he said. “We’re looking at some outside arbiters that can help us with that and putting that in place.” 

McCarthy said officials are also working on a common lease, which would provide homeowners with information about the depreciation of the homes. 

“Some of that is very unattainable on the data, so it’ll be hit or miss based on the assets worldwide. But the dispute resolutions where it has my particular focus on is that really empowers the soldier and their family,” he said. 

And it’s the soldiers and families who McCarthy said “much is asked of” but “much is deserved” to include ensuring “they’re getting the quality of life that they deserve.” 

"We’re not there yet, and we’re going to keep pushing on our partners to run faster and to get this done,” he said. 

With Corvias managing more than 6,104 homes and 432 apartments Fort Bragg, its top leadership says improvements are a focus. 

“Our team is committed to improving the homes to meet and exceed the needs of our residents,” Corvias’ founder John Picerne said in a news release after McCarthy’s tour. 

Col. Scott Pence, Fort Bragg’s garrison commander, said taking care of families is a top priority. He said improvements have been made to housing during the past year that include increased manpower within Corvias and the garrison, emphasizing customer service and Corvias’ $25.2 million investment.

“More needs to be done, and we will work closely with our Corvias partners to provide our families with quality housing,” Pence said in a news release after McCarthy’s tour. 

Fort Bragg’s garrison, which provides oversight of Corvias through the Directorate of Public Works’ Housing Division and inspects the homes, falls under the Installation Management Command

Lt. Gen. Douglas Gabram, the Installation Management Command’s commander, said work at Fort Bragg by Corvias and the “IMCOM team” is “symbolic of what is happening across the Army.” 

“We are committed to investing the time, money and leadership required to provide the kind of quality housing our soldiers and families deserve,” Gabram.

©2020 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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