Most Army Families Say They'd Move Off-Base If They Could to Escape Poor Housing

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Fort Meade housing. Army photo
Fort Meade housing. Army photo

A large majority (64%) of Army military families would move off base if they could afford it to escape poor housing conditions, a lack of oversight by commanders, and the petty harassment of private housing managers, according to a report published Sept. 5 by the office of the Army Inspector General.

At 48 of 49 installations surveyed by the IG, residents in privatized housing cited concerns with "environmental" issues, including mold, lead-based paint, asbestos, water quality, open sewage and radon gas, the report states.

Families who complained to property managers said they often faced retaliation, reprisals and petty harassment from the private management companies, according to the report.

"Examples from residents included additional move-out fees, fines due to yard maintenance or other discrepancies, and threats to call or involve the chain of command in various issues," IG investigators wrote. "In each case, residents described these types of actions immediately or shortly following a negative encounter with the private companies/property management team."

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The report includes 116 "sensing sessions" with housing residents, 1,180 resident surveys, 1,023 document reviews, and 227 interviews with garrison commanders and housing personnel.

Complaints about base housing in all the military branches figured in the Senate confirmation hearing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the former Army secretary.

Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, is expected to face more questioning on the issue at his own confirmation hearing for the permanent post before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

In a statement in response to the IG report, McCarthy said that the findings "along with results from our recent housing surveys, town hall meetings and other feedback mechanisms, will be used to continue our ongoing efforts to improve the quality of life for our soldiers and their families."

The IG report issued last Thursday found that garrison commanders and Army housing directors often lacked basic knowledge of their oversight roles and even the business agreements with the private managers of the housing.

In addition, senior Army commanders expressed concerns to the IG that they were kept out of decision-making on housing issues related to oversight, customer satisfaction and quality assurance.

At 92% of the sites visited, there were no published quality assurance procedures for ensuring the work done by the property managers was timely or efficient, the report states.

Because of shrinking budgets, the Army is left without "enough personnel required or authorized to oversee" the Residential Community Initiative, or RCI, which was begun in the 1990s to improve conditions at base housing, according to the report.

Nearly all commands (98%) also stated that "housing personnel lacked proper guidance on how to oversee the RCI program," it adds.

In a statement in response to the IG report, which was ordered last February when Esper was Army secretary, the service said that most of the recommendations made by the IG are being addressed and a few had already been completed.

"For example, the Army has already added 114 additional employees to various installation housing staffs, established classes to further educate senior commanders and garrison commanders" and put into effect procedures that allow residents to track work-order histories and maintenance issues, the statement said.

The Army has also set up 24-7 telephone hotlines for housing at all installations, and is "working with the other services to develop a joint Tenant Bill of Rights," one of the key demands of military family advocacy groups, the service's statement said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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