Blumenthal calls on DOJ to investigate privately managed military housing

Groton — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., visited privately managed military housing near the Naval Submarine Base on Wednesday to see firsthand the health and safety issues that military families in Groton, and across the country, have raised about their living situations.

Blumenthal went inside three homes managed by Balfour Beatty Communities — one on Deerwood Drive, one on Georgia Street, and another on Dewey Avenue — where he observed mold, lack of proper insulation, and "other failures in upkeep and maintenance," he said.

Afterward, he held a roughly hourlong forum, where about 10 families aired their grievances — a small number of the 1,041 military families living in homes managed by Balfour Beatty. He acknowledged that the forum, held in the middle of the day, was not at an ideal time for most to attend.

"The families who brought these issues to my attention said they had raised them repeatedly with Balfour Beatty," he said, adding that he plans to speak with company management.

Blumenthal said his sense is that those living in private military housing in Groton are dealing with the same kinds of issues that have been uncovered in other parts of the country, but the issues do not appear as dire here as elsewhere.

"These homes may be better in some ways than others that have been brought to the attention of the (Senate) Armed Services Committee," he said.

Blumenthal has called on the secretaries of the military services to do a "thorough review" of all contracts with private housing companies and to refer any fraudulent activity by these companies to the Department of Justice for criminal or civil investigation. The day before his visit to Groton, Blumenthal wrote a letter to the DOJ asking the department to investigate "potential fraudulent activity" by these housing companies.

Blumenthal said by phone Wednesday afternoon that the Pentagon should renegotiate its housing agreements, and that defense officials should withhold the housing allowances it pays to these private companies if they fail to perform repairs or other necessary services.

Top Navy officials have acknowledged that the government's role in these agreements has become "too passive, leaving the day-to-day operation of the housing program to the residents and the private partners."

Blumenthal's visit followed a March 1 forum hosted by the head of the sub base, Capt. Paul Whitescarver, as part of a mandate from Navy leaders that every sailor living in privatized military housing or government housing be contacted by April 15 about their living conditions.

Whitescarver told the crowd that the Navy is looking to identify any systemic problems and concerns about any conditions that jeopardized the safety and health of residents, and said the service intended to act as an advocate for its families.

j.bergman@theday.com

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