RI’s Picerne and Other Military Housing Violators Targeted By Presidential Candidate
Monday, April 29, 2019
John Picerne, the flamboyant CEO of Corvias who has come under fire by members and the families of the United States military for running substandard housing is now the target of Presidential candidate U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who is pushing for reform legislation.
Picerne’s company Corvias is one of the largest providers of housing to America’s military and their families and the Rhode Island-headquartered company has secured contracts with the United States Army that will generate $1 billion in fees.
Warren said in announcing the legislation on Friday, “On base after base around the country, military families were raising the alarm about their living conditions — toxic mold, lead paint, faulty wiring, mice infestation. Ceilings collapsed. Mold took over entire rooms. Kids were getting sick. And when families reported their concerns to their command, they were greeted with a shrug — or worse. Because of the way housing contracts are written, there was little the local base commander could do.”
Picerne’s Lavish Living — and Political Donations
At a United States Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in February, the families of members of the U.S. military told story after story of the substandard housing owned and maintained by the Rhode Island company.
Families reported deplorable housing conditions in Picerne’s properties. The family’s substandard are in stark contrast to the lavish lifestyle of Picerne.
Picerne has been buying mansions and castles in Florida, Ireland and Rhode Island.
The Irish Times reported in June 2016, “Property mogul John Picerne, the founder and chief executive of Corvias Group, has emerged as the US-based buyer of Capard House. Corvias specialises in the construction, renovation and management of military and student accommodation in the United States, among other services.” Picerne paid a reported €4m at the time.
“The profits have helped afford Picerne, 56, a yacht, private jet travel, and mansions renovated by celebrity decorator Martyn Lawrence Bullard, known for his work with the Kardashian family and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger,” reported Reuters.
Reuters wrote about Picerne’s Lifestyle:
At his own homes, Picerne has employed British designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, a star of the cable TV show Million Dollar Decorators.
In Picerne’s six-bedroom neo-Georgian brick house in Providence, the designer installed black-and-white marble floors. Bullard told Australia’s Belle Magazine the floor design was inspired by Rome’s Pantheon. The home features chrome and jade accents, a Murano-glass chandelier and a faux-zebra rug.
Bullard also redecorated a $6 million Rhode Island beach home across Narragansett Bay from Newport, where Picerne docks his 49-foot Italian-made yacht, the Under My Skin. In the living room, the designer hung a gilded chandelier, sheathed the walls in black seagrass and added chairs clad in turquoise-hued leather. ‘I took my inspiration from the Victorians,’ he told another magazine. On Instagram, John Picerne lauded Bullard’s ‘genius design.’”
Many of Rhode Island’s top elected officials have received tens of thousands in campaign donations. U.S. Senator Jack Reed has received $21,375 to his campaign account and his political action committee. Reed, who is the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, has refused to donate or return the contributions he has received from Picerne.
Reed is just one of the top recipients of Picerne’s donations.
Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin (D-2) has received $18,400 from Picerne, U.S. Congressman David Cicilline (D-1) has received $10,300 and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has received $9,800.
Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-1) received $25,000 and the late U.S. Senator John Chafee (R-RI) received $750, but prior to Picerne entering the military housing market. Rhode Island state officials have received substantial donations. The Rhode Island Democratic State Committee has received $47,000 and Governor Gina Raimondo (D-1) has received $8,000 in donations.
Military Families Live a Very different Life
The fees for military contracts are a windfall for Picerne, but military families told a very different story about their lifestyles in Picerne’s housing.
The non-profit Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) conducted an online survey from January 30 to February 6 to understand the scope of problems in military homes.
Of the 14,558 respondents who now live in privately managed military housing or have resided in such homes in the past three years, nearly 56 percent said they had “negative or very negative experiences” with their houses.
Corvias is one of the private military housing companies most cited for deplorable housing conditions.
“Our military families do not deserve this after all the sacrifices they make,…It is criminal. It is unbelievable the extent of this cover-up,” testified Janna Driver, the wife of an active-duty Air Force service member and mother of five children, according to Stars and Stripes.
See Some of the Military Housing Complaints Below
“It was a good deal (privatization)— for the private developers. Over the past 20 years, a small handful of companies have taken over 99% of domestic military family housing. Every month, the federal government pays them rent directly out of a service member’s paycheck, along with various bonuses and incentive fees. The risk is low — and the profits are enormous.,” said Warren.
“But this system has turned out to be a lousy bargain for military families. With their focus on short-term payoffs, private developers failed to invest in and maintain the properties with which they were entrusted. For its part, the Pentagon neglected to conduct any meaningful oversight, instead repeatedly paying performance bonuses despite systemic complaints. As a result, our military families have been left on their own to suffer the consequences,” said Warren.
Regarding Warren’s proposed legislation, Reed’s spokesman Chip Unruh said in a statement to GoLocal on Friday, “Senator Reed is working on fixing military housing and he thinks Senator Warren’s bill is a very helpful addition to the process as he drafts the annual National Defense Authorization law with Chairman Inhofe.”
Warren said in introducing the reforms, “Let’s start with something simple: if a developer does not live up to the terms of its agreement to maintain habitable properties for our military families, we should not reward them with bonuses and other incentive payments. In fact, I will require the Secretary of Defense to standardize leases across the military services and review all existing housing contracts for violations before they can be renewed.”
“Under my proposal, every base will have a housing office staffed with advocates for the service member — not beholden to a private contractor. That office will have independent authority to inspect housing on base to ensure that it is safe, clean, and meets all state and local requirements,” she added.
Corvias did not respond to requests for comment.
Privatized Military Housing Findings
Released February 13, 2019
THE GERBERS Fort Meade, Maryland The Gerber family PCS’d to Fort Meade from Germany. Because they were moving from overseas, looking for a home was challenging, so they decided to go with the safe bet of military housing. When they arrived at their home in July, the garage smelled extremely moldy, and the kitchen was flooded. The water line to the refrigerator broke which caused water to flood the kitchen and leak into the garage below. Corvias dry-vaced the water that morning. An air quality test was run and came back with high mold counts. As they were gutting the kitchen, they found black mold under the kitchen floor and in the garage. Corvias took over two months to remove damaged material, remediate mold (which was never done to appropriate standards), and renovate the kitchen. In late July, during a rainstorm, water began to flood the windows and all around the house due to poor gutter maintenance. The water in the windows caused paint to peel, exposing lead paint and lead paint chips. Shortly afterward, COL Gerber and his wife, Mrs. Sandy Gerber became very ill and noticed water stains in their ceiling. The Gerbers had a private firm conduct a test of dust samples from the home for mold, which came back extremely elevated for dangerous molds. The Gerbers demanded that Corvias bring in an outside party, whose air quality test showed elevated levels of mold and found massive leaking in the front door. COL Gerber and Mr. Connolly, the Covias Safety expert, found a dozen holes in the roof of the house. They would later discover that the HVAC in the attic had a 14” x 1” hole, allowing fiberglass into the system. They also found mold growing in it. Corvias refused to conduct air quality tests in the attic, so the Gerber’s hired a private home inspector. His air quality tests of the attic and the upstairs HVAC system were extremely elevated. He characterized the air in the home as “dirty.” For over four months, the HVAC system blew mold and fiberglass on the Gerbers as they slept. When they moved to temporary quarters, COL and Mrs. Gerber noticed the smell of gas. They found a gas leak that someone previously fixed with electrical tape and masking tape. Then they noticed a familiar smell. Mrs. Gerber saw that the linoleum around the toilet was peeling back. She lifted the linoleum and found six layers of linoleum covered with mold. The toilet had been leaking to the point that plants were growing under the floor. Mrs. Gerber called housing. When Corvias remediated the area the next day, Mrs. Gerber left the home to go to a doctor appointment, came back and became ill. Corvias’ contractors had torn apart the bathroom because mold was in the walls. The area was not sufficiently sealed off. The Gerbers moved into a hotel for seven weeks until they could find a new home
Privatized Military Housing Findings
Released February 13, 2019
THE TUTTLE FAMILY Fort Polk Leigh Tuttle’s family was stationed at Ft. Polk, Louisiana from December 2015 to February 2017, where they lived in privatized housing managed by Corvias. “It smelled like a wet dog,” she said. Within a few weeks of moving in, her son and husband developed respiratory issues. Leigh was pregnant at the time. “We looked in the air vents, where there were visible mold spores,” she shared. They immediately contacted Corvias, who came to clean. Within only a few weeks, the spores returned. “Our son was put on a nebulizer to help with his breathing. We had meetings with an allergist, skin prick tests, and bloodwork,” Leigh said. “My husband was in and out of med-call with a horrible cough.” They called Corvias, who took an air sample that revealed the highest score possible for mold (Image II). Their son was diagnosed with a severe allergy to the mold. “Corvias came back out, and I showed them the carpet with visible mold
Testimony U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee
February 13, 2019
My name is _______, an Army spouse of 9 years, and we are currently stationed at Ft. Meade in Maryland. My husband is a Sergeant First Class and we have 2 children. We are enrolled in the Department of Defense’s Exceptional Family Member Program, which means the Department helps us with adaptive housing, proper medical care, and educational needs for our daughter who has a genetic condition that causes both physical and educational issues. While not a perfect system, we are grateful for the E-F-M program as it allows my spouse to train and deploy without worrying about our safety and welfare at home. 5 Months before we moved to Fort Meade, we contacted the Corvias housing staff to select a house. Due to our daughter’s medical condition, we needed and requested a single-story home without stairs. We verbally made the housing staff aware over the phone, that our daughter has knee problems associated with her medical condition. Corvias assured us that since we were placed on the waitlist five months prior to our report date, they would have plenty of time to accommodate our request. After selecting from the choices that were provided by the housing staff, Corvias committed to providing us a single-story home that we selected. We packed for our move, had our household goods delivery set up, confident that the house we selected would accommodate us and our special needs and be ready upon our arrival. Five days before our move from Fort Gordon, 600-hundred miles away, we were told that the home we had secured with a lease was no longer available. The explanation we were given from Corvias was that the current family in the home was no longer moving out in time, and we now only had one option to choose for housing. It was the height of moving season, known as P-C-S. With no time left, we decided to take the only house Corvias offered that would be available upon arrival. We accepted the multi-story townhome on the base, rather than risk not having any housing at all. This meant that when our daughter dislocated her knee or when she requires surgery on her knee again, she has to go up and down the stairs to get to her room. Before we moved into housing we were quoted a fixed rate rent for the house. Upon arrival we were given a slightly higher rate, but we felt powerless in arguing the difference in rent prices. A few months later Corvias claimed they had miscalculated their own move in costs and were demanding we pay them an additional 14 dollars, even though this was their own mistake. In January when the housing allowance pay was adjusted, Corvias also took it upon themselves to disregard our fixed “market rate” lease and increased our pay deduction by 177 dollars without our consent or informing us. Once we provided them proof of our market rate addendum attached to the lease, we were given the burden of proof in this matter. Shortly after correcting the housing allotment, Corvias staff did inform us they will increase our rent again in July, despite their initial promise to continue to renew the lease at a market rate. Shortly after moving in, we began to notice issues with the home: the linoleum floor around the first-level toilet started to get large black matter visible underneath and it was growing. After the first work order, Corvias did not send any workers or inspectors so we submitted a second work order, Housing finally came to the house after an unexplained two week delay. They took out the toilet and placed it in our laundry room, where it sat for two days. They also pulled up the bathroom floor and exposed the house to extensive black mold for the next two days. Maintenance did not properly clean the concrete below, and just placed new linoleum over the mold covered concrete. The contractors Corvias sent to our home to repair the bathroom even stated that this work they had completed was just a band-aid. Shortly after the first floor bathroom issue was addressed, we began noticing issues with the second floor bathroom. Mold was growing out of the wall of the shower. When Corvias maintenance came to address our work order for this, they told us, and this is a direct quote, “let the mold just fall out. If we seal the area, the moisture would be trapped inside” Meanwhile, the area we can see behind the shower wall is black and actively growing mold because it continues to get wet with every shower. We requested an air quality check from housing due to our daughter’s frequent nosebleeds, and the bathroom mold issues we have encountered. Corvias, however, would not commit to checking our air quality, and it has been more than two weeks since we have heard from the housing office. Meanwhile, we are still living in these conditions. Our story is not unique, nor is it the worst. Almost 17-thousand military families responded to a survey by the Military Family Advisory Network, with testimonials of unhealthy living conditions in privatized housing on military bases. And many more were given to other military family nonprofits. Thank you, Senators for the opportunity to testify, and for addressing the serious issues of the health, safety and welfare of military families.
Privatized Military Housing Findings
Released February 13, 2019
THE WANNER FAMILY Fort Meade The Wanners, an EFMP family, are stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland. Before they moved to Fort Meade, they contacted the Corvias housing staff to inform them of their daughter’s special needs. Due to her medical condition, they required a single-story home and they requested a copy of the home’s history. They needed to avoid a home with any potential risk that could further perpetuate their daughter’s medical situation. Corvias committed to providing a single story home and the Wanners signed a lease for the unit. Five days prior to their move, they were told that the home was no longer available. The Wanner family decided it was best to live in a multi-story townhome rather than risk not having a housing option due to the high number of families seeking housing during PCS season. Shortly after moving in, the family started to notice issues: the toilet on the first floor was loose, areas of the floor started to rise and black “stuff” was visible and growing from underneath. After the first work order, Corvias did not send any workers or inspectors. Following a second work order, housing representatives arrived after an unexplained two-week delay. The housing team took the toilet out and put it in the laundry room, where it sat for two days. They also pulled up the bathroom floor and exposed the entire area covered with mold. The workers closed the door and did not return for 24 hours. After the first floor was addressed, the Wanners began noticing issues with the second-floor bathroom. Mold was growing out of the wall of the shower. They called the Corvias housing department, who told them “to let the mold just fall out.” Since moving in, their daughter’s medical condition has worsened, and she now has daily nosebleeds. The Wanner family requested an air quality check. Corvias would not commit to checking their air quality, and it has now been more than a week since they have heard from the housing office.