Thursday, October 11, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Housing mess hurts air base

Will someone please straighten out the mess that the Carabetta organization has made of housing privatization for families at Little Rock Air Force Base and at least three other bases?

These Connecticut developers walked away from the barely begun job in May, leaving unpaid subcontractors and Air Force families in the lurch.

We applaud Senators Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, who have passed a resolution directing the comptroller general of the United States to investigate the contracts, define the problem and suggest alternatives to fix it.

Did anyone check out this outfit, which has been embroiled in lawsuits over government contracts in its home state?

How exactly did the Carabettas, with a 25-year record that includes business failures, bankruptcy and unpaid subcontractors, secure more than $3 billion worth of government housing-privatization contracts?

And why has Arch Insurance, the bondholder, not made good on claims by the subcontractors who’ve been left holding the bag?

By 2012, Carabetta’s American Eagle was to have renovated 732 existing homes and built 648 new homes at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Three years into the project, privatization at the base was already about two years behind schedule — only a new town hall and 25 new, occupied homes were built and nearly 70 slabs poured.

Most Americans, whatever their feelings about the war in Iraq, insist that our fighting men and women be supported with the best armor and equipment in the field and the best health and education benefits at home.

And make that a decent home.

That presumably was the intent of the Defense Department when it began its housing-privatization program. According to a DOD spokesmen, the Carabettas, along with their sometimes partners Shaw Infrastructure, are the only privatization developers unable to perform their contract.

So airmen and families here and at Moody, Hanscom and Patrick Air Force bases, unpaid subcontractors on those jobs and, probably the taxpayers, all suffer, while the Carabettas continue to make money as they contract new jobs with cities and redevelopment agencies.

As one Air Force wife at LRAFB pointed out recently, military families have a right to know and they have a right to a better lifestyle. “Not all military families live in beautiful homes with breathtaking views that you see in ‘Army Wives’ or ‘The Unit.’
“My husband deploys quite often and we must live in (Little Rock) base housing to accommodate the deployments, finances, schooling and my medical condition,” she said in an online newsletter, but when she moved in, her home on the base was overrun with roaches, water damage, rust and other problems.

“The government has failed the military families in providing this project to the said contractors and not taking their history into account,” she said.

We don’t know if the Carabettas are unscrupulous, incompetent or some third alternative we’ve been unable to think of, but we’ve read their history and we’ve read that the Carabettas held oceanfront redevelopment in rundown Asbury Park, N.J.—Bruce Springsteen’s home haunts—hostage for a decade after they bought some important properties, promising the sky but delivering nothing.

They have consistently ignored telephone and email requests for answers to questions. The public-relations firm the Carabettas hired to deal with this mess has now deferred to a law firm without answering a single question.

Someone needs to hold these folks accountable and someone needs to step into the breach and provide decent housing for the military families at Little Rock Air Force Base.