Target 12

RI developer apologizes to families, Congress for military housing problems

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Rhode Island-based developer apologized at a Senate hearing on Wednesday for what he admitted were "unacceptable" conditions at some military housing that his company builds and maintains.

John Picerne of East Greenwich-based Corvias Group was one of five private developers who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington. The business leaders appeared following testimony from family members of military personnel who described mold problems, pest infestations and unsafe conditions with base housing.

"Until recent media reports and today's hearing, our efforts to fight for safe housing were too often met with intimidation and personal attacks," Crystal Cromwell, a Marine spouse, told lawmakers. "And strategic attempts to discredit us and silence our voices."

Picerne told the committee his company is already making "organizational changes" to address the issues.

"On behalf of everyone at Corvias, we let down some of our residents and I’m sorry and we're going to fix it," Picerne said. "We will get to the bottom of this problem and once again we will return to the gold standard of customer service that we once had."

Picerne's company fell under the spotlight following an investigation by Reuters. The news agency interviewed dozens of current or recent tenants of military housing who said they lived in poorly maintained homes, some plagued by mold, sometimes triggering serious health problems. 

Corvias began winning government contracts to manage military housing roughly 18 years ago, and now maintains some 26,000 homes on 13 military bases.

Picerne blamed part of the problem on $140 million that was "trapped in reserve accounts" by investment groups. He said that money is being freed up to make immediate repairs to housing.

"We are also investing $323 million in new dollars which will provide improving more than 2,300 homes in our communities," Picerne said.

Under questioning by U.S. Sen. Daniel Sullivan, R-Alaska, Picerne was pushed on whether the developers should be graded for their performance by military families. Picerne started to say Picerne does company surveys, but Sullivan shut him down. "I'm not talking about surveys," he said.

"Maybe tie it to your compensation," Sullivan added.

"Absolutely," Picerne responded.

Before the hearing, Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Jack Reed - the top Democrat on the commitee - called the proceedings "a first major step."

"I hope today will be the recognition by the company they have a responsibility to provide the best possible housing to their personnel," Reed said. "We're going to make sure we build in a structure so that several years from now good intentions are not forgotten and we have a structure in place to protect the families."

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook


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