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Fort Meade military families sue, alleging hazardous housing conditions

A sign outside Fort Meade, Md., headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) ,on February 14, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
November 14, 2019

Ten active-duty military families living on base at Fort George G. Meade have sued the private companies managing base housing for what the families allege to be hazardous housing conditions exhibited through widespread mold, the law firm representing the residents announced Tuesday.

Filed a day after Veterans Day, the class-action lawsuit alleges that Corvias and Meade Communities, LLC — the companies managing all on-base housing at Fort Meade — have known about mold infestations at the U.S. Army base and launched a haphazard effort to remedy them by conducting tainted air tests, withholding results from families and failing to remediate conditions detrimental to the residents’ health.

The lawsuit, filed on a pro bono basis by law firm Covington, seeks an amount of damages to be determined at trial for the service member clients — Army, Navy, Coast Guard officers among them. It also asks the U.S. District Court for Maryland order Corvias to hire third-party inspectors to test every property on the base for mold and determine whether the property is habitable; remediate any property contaminated by mold, and prevent the company from leasing any contaminated property.

“It shouldn’t have to take a lawsuit to fix this. We need to do right by these folks,” said Benjamin Block, a partner at Covington, himself a five-year Army veteran. “These are good people, they shouldn’t have to go through what they’re going through in on-base housing.”

In a statement, a Corvias spokeswoman said the lawsuit ignores the efforts undertaken to provide suitable housing.

“We are aware of the complaint, filed today, against Meade Communities, the partnership of Corvias and the Army,” Kelly Douglas, the spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “It does not reflect the significant resources, attention and rigor that has been brought to assuring quality resident housing.”

According to the lawsuit, when all residents signed their leases they were required to sign a “mold addendum,” which downplayed the health risks of mold contamination.

Being exposed to mold can cause allergic responses like sneezing, skin rash and red eyes, with people with asthma at risk of episodes, according to the complaint. More volatile varieties of the microbe could lead to headaches, dizziness and nausea, among other symptoms, it stated.

Such fungus was present on the walls, in the bathrooms, in heating and air conditioning ducts and kitchens of tenants, according to the lawsuit. Corvias often met proliferating pests, deteriorating infrastructure, discolored water, leaks, burst pipes and other problems with stopgap solutions — like painting over mold.

Featured in the 92-page lawsuit are photos of a child with bloodshot eyes, ceilings collapsed and what captions describe as white air vents blackened with mold and back yards with standing sewage water. Ignored by maintenance staff, the lawsuit alleges, some of the families spent thousands of dollars trying to remedy the problems on their own.

The lawsuit also refers to news media reports beginning in the fall of 2018, which detailed widespread mold at Fort Meade and the ensuing response, which saw Corvias President and CEO John Picerne testify at U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearings and pledge his company would return to the “gold standard” of resident care.

“This is not the gold standard,” lawyers for the families wrote in the complaint. “This is no standard at all.”

The complaint alleges the management companies were grossly negligent, breached repair warranties and contracts — violating a host of federal and state laws. The lawsuit also asks a federal judge to mandate Corvias pay for the plaintiffs attorneys fees and stop collecting housing allowances from service members living on base until they fix the housing conditions.

Companies like Corvias receive rental income from direct payment of service members’ housing allowance, a tax-free allowance based on average rental prices in the area, which was created by the Military Housing Privatization Initiative of 1996, according to the lawsuit. Corvias receives funds directly from the federal government for its operation at military bases, and they receive the entire housing allowance of service members living on base by direct deposit.

“On-base housing should be beneficial to service members and their families by giving them access to a safe community near work, thereby reducing one area of stress for people who have volunteered to serve our Nation,” attorneys representing the military families’ wrote in the complaint. “Unfortunately, at Fort Meade, the on-base housing has been a tremendous source of stress and harm to these service members and their families.”

Block said his clients are most concerned with preventing other military families at Fort Meade from being subjected to the living conditions they’ve endured. “We agree with that and that’s what we’re hoping the suit will help ensure,” he said.

He and the other attorneys representing the 10 service members listed in the complaint, who boast more than a century’s worth of active duty between them and many deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, implored the court to act swiftly on behalf of their clients and all other military members living on-base at Fort Meade.

What they’ve been subjected to, the attorneys concluded in the complaint, “cannot be allowed to continue over another Veterans Day.”


© 2019 The Baltimore Sun

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