Lincoln Military Housing president answers more questions about mold and unsafe living conditions

Posted at 4:28 PM, Nov 29, 2011
and last updated 2012-04-09 17:28:33-04

Their stories started it all.

Shelley Federico and Sabrina Baxter came forward, talking about mold in their homes, and the refusal by Lincoln Military Housing to even acknowledge their problems.

In the week that followed, over 60 families shared their experiences with mold, water damage and poor maintenance in Lincoln Housing. And finally, Jerrel Bliss, the president of the company, came down to Hampton Roads to address all these issues with me on camera.

“I want all of our families to know we care, so appreciative of what they do. We want them to be comfortable, we want to take action, resolve their issues,” he says in the sit-down interview.

That action, Bliss explains, is a holistic review of the way Lincoln does business, looking at maintenance practices, and the way they handle customer complaints.

Starting this week, to alleviate residents worries, “we are going to go through a management review of our procedures and our communication policies,” he says.

Lincoln would acknowledge on camera there are water damage issues, especially in their older homes. But even from the president of the company, the word mold is never spoken.

“We have yet to hear from anybody in Lincoln that says we have mold in our homes. Can you say that to me here and now?” asks Laurie Simmons.

“We’ll we are going to work with all of our teams, our inspectors, to determine what the situation is. And once they determine what that situation is, they call for testing – if they call for testing – we will test,” he says.

“So you still won’t admit there has been mold in your homes for the past 5 or 6 years?” we asked.

“I can’t speculate on that,”

“I know you can’t comment on specific cases, but would you want your family to live in a home with this in there, whatever it might be? If it is mold, if it isn’t mold, would you want to living in a home that looks like this?” we asked.

“I can’t speculate on that, but I can tell you that I would be very proud to live in a Lincoln Military Housing home,” he replies.

Our reporting has uncovered serious issues with the actions of maintenance workers and whether they are properly trained to address mold, water damage, and even things as dangerous as gas leaks. But Bliss says they are taught how to handle issues along EPA guidelines.

When you guys show up, and you spray bleach and paint over Kiltz, do you think that is following EPA guidelines for mold on drywall?

“If the guidelines call for that, then yes,” he says.

“You cannot kill mold with bleach on building materials. As president of company, do you feel that is following proper EPA guidelines?”

“We follow the EPA guidelines. That’s what our procedures call for,” Bliss responds.

Even though they won’t acknowledge the mold, the company has already started a maintenance review and remedy program, going to all the residents who have appeared in our stories and commented on our Facebook pages issuing 48 hour inspection notices.

“People were a little concerned about that. They viewed it as a little bit of intimidation,” Laurie said.

“[We] became aware of these situations through your reporting, your Facebook page, and the only reason we sent out 48 hour inspection notices is because we were unable to contact them by phone or email,” Bliss says.

But many families tell us they do feel bullied, saying Lincoln managers have even threatened eviction for speaking to the media.

We asked if Bliss tolerated bad behavior within his ranks at the local, regional levels?

“No, we do not tolerate bad behavior. And as a part of this holistic review, we are looking at all parts of our organization to make sure we are improving. It’s not policy, just being kind to these very important families to us,” he says.

And as for those threatened evictions, Bliss made me a promise on camera today:

“We are not going to evict folks, families, these important families, for talking to the media,” he says.

Lincoln continued to reiterate that things will change in their complexes moving forward. But families have already been coming forward after their inspections this week, saying the company will still not test for mold.

“The families feel a little frustrated, can you identify with that frustration?” Laurie asked.

“If they are frustrated, we want to hear it from them. I can promise you today, we are looking at total system, coming out with initiatives that will help them feel like their voices have been heard,” he says.