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Five military housing contractors told lawmakers they are taking concrete steps to improve the conditions of service member homes, and creating better avenues to report substandard living conditions, but lawmakers are skeptical of the progress.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday that they are hearing reports of persistent and worsening housing conditions on some bases. Additionally, a recent Government Accountability Office report found the Defense Department has little insight into the condition of the homes and the data it does have on the houses is spotty.
The presidents and CEOs of Corvias Group, Hunt Companies, Lendlease Americas, Balfour Beatty and Lincoln Military Housing all told the committee they are making progress on bettering the living environments for service members living in houses built and managed by their companies. Those homes were plagued by mice, mold, lead paint and deferred maintenance.
“When I was last on the Hill in February I said I was sorry,” John Picerne, founder and CEO of Corvias Group said. “I said I would do whatever it takes to do what is right by our residents. We have been making changes in a concerted effort to get back to the gold standard.”
Picerne said his company added neighborhood staff to work directly with families, moved resident call centers back onto installations, launched a portal for residents to place and track work orders and established the role of a resident advocate.
Corvias also added $325 million in private capital to work on houses and is adding another $200 million from partnership reserves.
Denis Hickey, CEO of Lendlease Americas, said his company increased a focus on customer service, added new staff and training modules for maintenance.
“We’ve introduced new mold inhibiting protocols,” Hickey said. “These include new mold painting techniques, enhanced filter protections, new ventilation systems and other initiatives. We are continuing to invest in digital technology to improve all aspects of our business. This includes modules that include customer service, greater data analytics and better predictive maintenance technology.”
Hickey also said his company received 25,000 work orders last month, and 97% were completed on time and function.
“We think this is a good result and we are proud of that,” Hickey said. “However, it does mean 3% were not completed on time. That 3% is my central focus. What can we do to get that number down?”
Hickey’s high percentage may not be as good as it sounds though. The GAO report released earlier this week stated metrics like completing work orders on time are not as positive as they sound.
“While this indicator measures the timeliness of the private partner’s response, it does not measure or take into account the quality of the work that was conducted or whether the resident’s issue was fully addressed,” the report states.
None of the CEOs provided comprehensive metrics or statistics about the progress they made on the houses.
Lawmakers like Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) said they are seeing issues with the houses continue.
In a letter obtained by Federal News Network, Brown called on the Fort Meade garrison commander to step up and protect service member since “it seems that Corvias is no longer a partner with Fort Meade.”
“Nearly 12 months later problems persist and have worsened,” Brown states in the letter. “Despite the resources and attention Corvias has supposedly brought to improving housing, there are reports that they are manipulating tests, falsifying repairs, punishing families who speak out by purposely delaying maintenance requests, waiting for the families to permanently change station, and harassing service members.”
Brown described service members selling their blood to fix their homes themselves.
Stories like the ones in Brown’s letter were echoed by other lawmakers dealing with the different housing companies.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) visited Fort Belvoir on Monday and recounted a family whose home was undergoing repairs for mold. The insulation was supposed to be replaced, but a woman living in the house noticed no new insulation was brought into the home, despite the company’s insistence it was supplanted.
“She said, ‘Open the wall. I think you’re lying to me,’” Kaine said during the hearing. “The wall was opened up and the old installation that was dirty had been put back in and it was already soaking wet because not only had they not put in new insulation, they hadn’t fixed the water problem behind the wall.”
Earlier this week, the top civilians in each military service said they would consider dropping the companies if things don’t improve, but did not offer any further details.