Senior Army Leaders Begin Crackdown on Private Housing Problems

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley speaks with America’s First Corps Commanding General Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky during a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, on July 23, 2018. The Army is stepping up inspections of base housing and holding town halls for soldiers and families living in more than 87,000 homes on its bases. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Erica Earl)
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley speaks with America’s First Corps Commanding General Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky during a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, on July 23, 2018. The Army is stepping up inspections of base housing and holding town halls for soldiers and families living in more than 87,000 homes on its bases. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Erica Earl)

As the Army steps up inspections of base housing and holds town halls for soldiers and families living in more than 87,000 homes on post, the service's senior leaders are making clear that the private management companies responsible for the housing must fix long-standing problems, starting with customer service.

According to an service release, Army Secretary Mark Esper, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey met with the heads of seven companies this week to discuss how to solve problems, including peeling paint and mold, faulty wiring, rodent and bug infestations and more.

Among the solutions agreed to is a tenant bill of rights that would suspend certain fees and let soldiers withhold rent payments if their housing issues aren't solved. In addition, the companies "made commitments to improve work-order transparency through an online tracking system" and agreed to train enough employees to handle problems when they arise, according to the release.

Esper, Milley and Dailey traveled to Fort Meade, Maryland, last week to conduct an inspection of the privately managed housing on the installation, where they observed what they described as "unacceptable ... deficient housing conditions."

In a letter to the companies, they said they were "deeply troubled," adding that the Army was "failing soldiers and their families by not providing the quality housing they deserve."

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Executives who met with the three Army leaders included those from Balfour Beatty Communities, CRC Companies LLC, Corvias Military Living, Hunt Military Communities, Lincoln Military Housing, Lendlease Corp. and Michael's Military Housing.

Across more than 40 Army installations, base leaders are holding town halls to provide information on the Army's efforts to oversee the housing crisis and receive feedback from personnel and family members living on installations.

An announcement at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for a town hall scheduled for Feb. 26 called the event "an internal forum for installation leaders to personally connect with soldiers, Army families and other residents of Fort Campbell to help ensure they are meeting their obligations to provide safe, quality family housing."

The town hall will be attended by Maj. Gen. Brian Winski, commander of Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division; garrison commander Col. Joseph Kuchan; and representatives from Campbell Crossing LLC, the company that manages the post's housing.

Issues over the safety and health of privately managed military housing were exposed last year in several months-long investigations by Reuters. They included reports of children poisoned by lead in older homes and families falling ill as the result of mold growth in new construction.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing Feb. 14 to understand the scope of the issue and grill housing management executives and Defense Department leadership on their plans to solve the problems.

In the past, housing companies and military leadership have reported satisfaction rates among tenants of military housing as high as 85 percent to 98 percent. Results of a survey released just before the Senate hearing, however, painted a different picture: Of 14,558 qualified respondents, 56 percent said they had a negative or very negative experience living in privatized housing.

Questions of poor oversight by the government and opportunism by the private companies responsible for managing military housing -- a benefit once run by the Defense Department -- come as the DoD is considering outsourcing its system for permanent change-of-station moves.

U.S. Transportation Command is weighing whether contracting with a global household goods shipping company would help solve logistics and quality-control issues experienced frequently by military families when they move between duty stations.

Military family advocates consistently have raised concerns over the Defense Department's ability to adequately provide oversight of private corporations hired to provide services and hold them accountable.

In a release Feb. 13, the National Military Family Association referenced its own congressional testimony in 2001 about outsourcing military housing, when it predicted that "if the services' oversight of developers mirrors their own care of housing, families could be caught in the middle of the new management company blaming failures on the construction company, the services blaming both, and 'those families will suffer.' "

"It saddens and angers us to have to say, 'We told you so,' " said Joyce Raezer, NMFA executive director. "Privatization was supposed to make those problems go away, but military leaders at multiple levels did what we feared they would -- abdicate their responsibility to look out for their people. Shame on them. Congress must hold them accountable."

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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