Housing at Fort Meade to be privatized, rebuilt

Contract worth $3 billion over 50-year period

April 13, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Without asking, a visitor can spot some of what's wrong with the home of Clarence and Jazmin Ross in the Argonne Hills section of Fort Meade: cramped kitchen, low ceilings, small rooms.

But ask, and the couple, both 28, tell of leaky faucets, lights that turn themselves on and off, and chunks of drywall that fall to the floor if so much as a single nail is hammered into the wall.

"They should do more work on housing," Army Spc. Clarence Ross said yesterday as movers carted away the couple's belongings. "This apartment complex needs to be rebuilt."

It will be - but not in time for Ross and other soldiers to see it.

Fort Meade is gearing up for a housing overhaul that will replace about 2,600 rundown military dwellings such as the Rosses' shabby townhouse with modern homes. It's part of the Residential Communities Initiative, a nationwide Army program to privatize and upgrade military housing.

Last month, the Army chose MC Partners LLC, a partnership between Picerne Real Estate Group of Warwick, R.I., and IT Group in Pittsburgh, for the multibillion-dollar project at Fort Meade. Yesterday, representatives from the companies outlined their plans for the base - and how much work lies ahead to get to where they want to be.

"My first reaction when I saw the housing? It was deplorable," said John Picerne, the Rhode Island company's executive vice president.

Lead paint and asbestos have been problems for years on the base, but Picerne blames the decay on age and a lack of funding. He said MC (Meade Communities) Partners will address those problems by applying market standards to military housing.

The arrangement between MC Partners and military families will be like that of landlord and tenant. Those who live in the new homes will pay their housing allowance - an average of $1,164 a month - to MC Partners, which will be responsible for repairs.

Under the current system, housing allowance money flows into a general Army fund, leaving those who manage housing unable to control budgeting for repairs, said Clarke R. Howard Jr., project coordinator for privatization initiatives on the base.

"There'll be no more, `We can't fix your home until budget FY something,'" Picerne said. "The funds will be built in."

The Army values MC Partners' contract at $3 billion - a figure based on base housing allowances adjusted for inflation over the next 50 years.

Over the next decade, MC Partners will invest more than $400 million in construction of the new homes, renovate 112 historic residences and add 308 housing units to those being replaced. The Army will pay MC Partners about 4 percent of rental income to manage housing at the base.

Yesterday, Picerne talked of a pastoral community with interconnecting walkways, neighborhood centers and kitchens with the most up-to-date appliances. It would be nicer, Picerne promised, than Seven Oaks, an upscale community across Route 175.

Nearly 40 planners were dispatched to the base two weeks ago to prepare a community development and management plan for the next 50 years. A planning process that usually takes several years will be condensed into months. MC Partners plans to complete the plan by July.

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