August 19, 2020

Warren, Tlaib Question College Housing Developer on Prioritizing Profits over Students' Health & Safety Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Private company Corvias pressed for fewer restrictions on campus housing reopenings that are inconsistent with CDC guidelines Warren previously eyed company for subpar military housing

Letter to Corvias Group (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) wrote to the Corvias Group questioning why the private company pressed for fewer restrictions on reopening of on-campus college housing and residential facilities, and reportedly put profits above public health during the COVID-19 pandemic for the colleges and universities at which it owns and manages student housing. 

Corvias has student housing agreements with the University System of Georgia (USG) and Wayne State University, and like other colleges and universities, both are grappling with how to bring students back to campus for in-person instruction safely. But Corvias reportedly pushed for a less restricted reopening of on-campus housing that is inconsistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, raising serious questions about the nature of the company's partnerships with institutions of higher education and the private sector influences affecting campuses as they make important public health decisions for Fall. 

In a recently revealed May 29, 2020 letter from Corvias to the USG Board of Regents, Corvias asserted that the Board does not have "the unilateral right" to prohibit students from living on campus or to reduce housing fees and concluded that "limiting the occupancy of on-campus student housing will not ultimately benefit students or the University community." Corvias reportedly sent a similar letter to Wayne State University. But a review of Corvias's agreement with USG indicates that the Board of Regents - the centralized governing and management authority of USG - would retain "exclusive authority over setting residency requirements for students at each institution," with "no minimum occupancy levels" guaranteed. Despite the fact that Corvias indicates that its agreements with colleges and universities allow institutions "control of strategic decisions" and "flexibility to change as campus evolves", the company appeared to push for specific decisions and limited flexibility, potentially posing a risk to public health.

The May 29 document also revealed how, after the closure of campus housing at USG institutions earlier during the pandemic, the Board of Regents "provided $13.4 million in rent refunds, depleting its reserves" but that "Corvias did not cover or share in responsibility for this refund nor indicat(e) a willingness to do so for Fall 2020." 

"These revelations present serious concerns regarding Corvias's role in addressing the student housing issues and funding problems that campuses are dealing with during this pandemic, and raise questions about the nature of its public-private partnerships with public institutions of higher education and their governing bodies...It would be troubling if Corvias was once again prioritizing its profits over the health and safety of its residents," wrote Senator Warren and Representative Tlaib.

Senator Warren and Representative Tlaib requested Corvias provide a list of all partners with which Corvias has an agreement to manage, operate, or construct student housing for institutions of higher education, copies of all these agreements, and all written communication between Corvias and these partners regarding the status of student housing for the upcoming academic year. They also asked the company if it agrees with CDC risk assessments, if it consulted with local and state officials on the policies its pushing, and how the profits Corvias receives from constructing, managing, or operating housing for institutions of higher education are set. 

In 2019, Senator Warren opened an investigation into Corvias Group and other private housing developers for their involvement in military housing development after a series of disturbing reports that revealed unsafe and unsanitary conditions in privatized, on-base housing for military personnel and their families.