“We're going to get better, and win back the trust of these families, one home at a time.”
Lincoln Military Housing President Jarl Bliss made that promise to NewsChannel 3 in December of 2011, at the height of our Taking Action Investigation.
Eighteen months later after the spotlight faded, pictures continue to flood into NewsChannel 3 to this day, showing the current living conditions inside Lincoln complexes all over Hampton Roads.
These included a sewage backup, caught on camera near the former homes of Shawna Sheriff and Heather Schuler inside Joint Forces Staff College.
“It was disgusting, I don’t even know how to describe it; it stunk,” said Sheriff. These ladies say the back-ups occurred on a regular basis at the complex. The latest leak happened in March.
That’s when Shawna discovered what those leaks left behind. “There was 2 1/2 feet of mold in that entire room,” said Sheriff.
Tests showed significant levels of mold everywhere the sewage water had touched.
Lincoln says they immediately remediated the Sheriff's home, following Virginia state laws.
Still, Shawna worried about what she couldn't see. According to the mold inspection report she paid for, “mold may be present in these areas concealed behind wall/ceilings."
“We were told by numerous Lincoln reps that the home was safe to live in,” said Sheriff.
It’s a concern for many families living inside Lincoln housing, hidden mold. That's what Angela Walker says she was a victim of.
“The sickening fact that I’ve lived like this and I didn’t know,” said Walker. The problems, though, started with visible mold at her Ben Moreell home in her laundry room, in her air ducts, and in her kitchen cabinets.
“It was nothing but solid black and it smelled horrible,” said Walker.
Angela does admit that in each instance, Lincoln immediately responded to the mold they could see.
“I did see the plastic up, the barriers up, they did have the zipper thing, they did contain it,” said Walker. Again, she worried about what she couldn't see—but Angela says her fears were confirmed in March, when her neighbor captured a water leak bursting through the ceiling in her garage.
“I didn’t understand the full situation until I came home and saw it for ourselves. Parts of my ceiling on the floor, water dripping,” said Walker. “You’ve got the pink insulation, but it’s not all pink, it's patches of black, and when you go underneath, and you are looking up at the studs, all you see is the mold covering the wood.”
Mold tests confirmed extremely high levels of Stachybotrys on the ceiling drywall. It is a slow growing mold that shows long term moisture problems.
“They knew, they knew what was in there,” said Walker.
Britnee Graf, another Navy wife, says she knew how bad that home was because she lived in that exact same unit before Angela.
“In the downstairs bathroom, the walls started bubbling,” said Graf talking about all the water problems she experienced in that home. “The laundry room started leaking water from the walls, down at the base of the wall, and the vents started leaking.”
All were the same places that Angela later found mold.
Lincoln says they remediated the home between the Graf's move out, and the Walkers' move in. Angela tried to get a remediation certificate, proof that work was indeed done, but the response from Lincoln Vice President Joe Sharp through email was: "We will not be releasing to you records regarding prior residents or the residences."
“We were told it was a privilege to live in military housing, not a right, but it is our right to live in a safe environment,” said Walker.
That's the basis of the legal case Lincoln now faces in federal court whether they were negligent in putting families in moldy homes.
Twenty lawsuits have been filed so far, and the first case will be heard by a federal judge Wednesday in Norfolk.
According to plaintiff's attorneys, more than 200 additional lawsuits are waiting in the wings, including Angela and Shawna's cases.
“They need to be held accountable for hospital bills, the damage that we've suffered already,” said Walker.
No matter what happens in court, these women say they want the Navy and Congress to know what is still going on in Lincoln Military Housing.
“You need to make sure you keep investigating this company, make sure they do what is right for service members,” said Sheriff.
“I don’t want Lincoln to have this opportunity to wreck other people’s lives like they have done so many of us,” said Walker.
NewsChannel 3 asked Lincoln, and specifically the president, Jarl Bliss, to speak to us on camera for this story, but they refused, citing the pending litigation, and instead sent this statement.
“Lincoln’s top priority is ensuring our residents enjoy safe, quality housing. Lincoln worked very hard with each of these families to fix all the issues identified. The fact that Lincoln provides a good-quality standard of living is proven by our 98% occupancy rate, high resident satisfaction ratings, and the hundreds of families currently waiting to move into a Lincoln home. No one is forced to live in our housing, they choose to do so because of our reputation and record in serving military families.”
We also contacted the Navy, and they say they urge families to seek help with the Navy Housing Office if they are having problems with any landlord, including Lincoln.
The Navy also tells us those sewage issues in Joint Forces Staff College will actually be fixed, starting in the fall.
It's part of their five-year improvement plan, replacing the 50-year-old clay tile sewer lines with new, cured in place polyester lines.
Navy officials say tree roots were affecting the sewer systems, causing all those backups that Lincoln had to clean up.