Congressman accuses Fort Meade housing contractor of retaliating against military families
By AARON GREGG | The Washington Post | Published: December 7, 2019
The company in charge of privatized military housing projects on Fort Meade, Md., has been accused of retaliating against service members who complained of poor conditions there, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.
In a letter addressed to Fort Meade Garrison Commander Col. Erich Spragg, Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., criticized Corvias Management-Army of presiding over "rodent-infested and dilapidated housing." The letter also states that the company failed to address the issues a year after they were raised and also pressured military families to keep quiet.
Brown's district is one of several that includes areas around Fort Meade. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., as well as Maryland Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both Democrats, have also been outspoken about the issue.
"Despite repeated promises to address these health and safety hazards, insufficient ― if any ― progress has been made," Brown said in a letter written Thursday and obtained by The Washington Post. "I have also been informed about retaliation against these military families who are trying to leave these abysmal conditions. We are still failing these families and it is totally unacceptable."
Brown pressed Corvias president John Picerne over the issue at a hearing Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee. At the hearing, Brown said he had heard from constituents who reported being the subject of lewd gestures from Corvias representatives and had been excluded from community events because they raised concerns over poor housing.
In response, Picerne said: "We take any form of retaliation, retribution or harassment extremely seriously and will not permit that behavior."
Also at the hearing, Picerne pointed to improvements his company made over the past year, which included spending $320 million to improve housing communities "at no cost to the government."
The letter did not name the people who expressed concerns nor did it provide specific details about the alleged retaliation. Media representatives from the Army and Corvias did not comment on the letter.
The Corvias housing at Fort Meade is a relic of a late 1990s privatization drive in which the Pentagon outsourced some of its on-base housing, hoping to save money and harness the efficiencies of the private sector. Today, Corvias is one of 14 contractors responsible for 79 military housing developments across the country, 34 on Army bases including Fort Meade.
In recent years, however, the issue has evolved into a national scandal over conditions on some bases. Corvias was singled out in a 2018 Reuters investigation that reported the company collected hundreds of millions in fees and equity returns while presiding over defunct housing.
An activist community led by military spouses has drawn attention to houses infested with rats, black mold, sewage, and other problems. They allege a systematic failure by contractors to address maintenance requests, who they say in some cases falsified records to cover it up.
More recently, congressional Democrats and Republicans have taken housing contractors to task over shortcomings in their home districts.
High-ranking military officials were grilled on the issue at a separate hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In one exchange, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., asked officials when the Defense Department would start bringing contractors to court over breach of contract.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said: "We might be there right now, sir."
The hearings come just a few weeks weeks after 10 military families filed suit against Corvias in district court in Maryland. They accused Corvias of gross negligence and fraud.
The lawsuit includes photos and testimony from military spouses who lived with their children in mold-infested houses. They said Corvias representatives dragged their feet when asked to make repairs and that they found it difficult to relocate.
Some residents said they felt trapped due to a system in which residents' housing allowances are paid directly to the contractor, giving them little leverage when asking for repairs and making it hard for them to quickly move out.
A Corvias spokeswoman said the lawsuit "does not reflect the significant resources, attention and rigor that has been brought to assuring quality resident housing."
Brown, in his letter, seemed skeptical that Corvias has fixed the underlying issues. Nearly 12 months after Corvias committed to making improvements, "the problems have persisted and have worsened ― with real consequences on service members and their families, including children," Brown's letter states.