February 7, 2019 / 5:23 PM / 9 months ago

Senators Warren, Warner question contractors, military on unsafe housing

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has become the latest congressional leader to press for answers from military contractors over Reuters reports describing unsafe housing conditions on U.S. bases, sending letters this week to five large real estate firms seeking detailed information about their operations and profits.

FILE PHOTO: Homes at Fort Benning undergo lead paint removal as the U.S. Army mobilizes to protect residents against lead poisoning hazards in Fort Benning, Georgia, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrea Januta/File Photo

“A series of disturbing news reports have raised serious questions about the quality of privatized, on-base housing for military personnel,” the Democratic presidential contender wrote in the letters, sent Wednesday. “It would be profoundly troubling if your company, or your subcontractors, were maximizing short-term profit by providing military personnel with subpar housing.” (See one of Warren’s letters: tmsnrt.rs/2BloFbO)

Her inquiry comes as the Senate Armed Services Committee plans hearings next Wednesday to hear from private contractors, the Department of Defense and military families over a series of Reuters reports that revealed safety and health hazards in military housing across the United States, including lead poisoning, rampant mold and pest infestations.

Read the series, Ambushed at Home: reut.rs/2t1Y2UA

Warren told the companies to be prepared to turn over documents and answer questions about their profits, tenant complaints and base housing-maintenance practices.

The senator is seeking information that neither the Defense Department nor its private housing partners have released to the public, including the earnings these firms reap from confidential 50-year contracts and complaints filed by residents living on base. In December, Reuters described the profits of one major private contractor, Corvias Group, after obtaining confidential documents showing the company stands to earn over $1 billion in fees in long-term contracts to house Army families.

Warren sent the letters to the top executives at Corvias Group, Hunt Military Communities, Lincoln Military Housing, Balfour Beatty Communities and Americas Lendlease Corporation, firms that develop or manage military housing. All have been called to testify at next week’s hearings.

On Thursday, Corvias said it is already taking steps to improve performance, while Balfour Beatty said it will work with Congress to improve the privatization program. Lincoln said it is “proud of the housing we provide.”

Hunt and American LendLease did not respond to requests for comment.

Also this week, Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner pressed Secretary of the Army Mark Esper to explain how the Army is addressing military housing hazards documented by Reuters.

Warner is among several senators from both parties seeking to repair breakdowns in a two-decade old privatization program in which private companies partner with the military to manage more than 200,000 family housing units across more than 100 U.S. bases. The Defense Department said the program has improved housing conditions, and that it is committed to remediating problems.

By Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell. Additional reporting by Andrea Januta. Editing by Ronnie Greene

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