The Department of Defense needs better oversight of privatized military housing to make sure residents’ complaints about issues like mold, rodents and pests are addressed, according to a Congressional watchdog report.
Private companies are responsible for the construction, renovation and maintenance of about 99% of military housing in the United States. But military families have complained for years that their landlords aren’t responsive -- and that could put their health in jeopardy.
Focus groups conducted by the Government Accountability Office showed that some troops will no longer live in privatized housing because of their experiences and that some people’s decision whether to re-enlist will be impacted by housing problems.
After reviewing leases and other documents, and interviewing officials at Naval Station Norfolk, Langley Air Force Base in Hampton and eight other bases around the country, the GAO determined that the Defense Department needs to ensure it is collecting information that accurately reflects housing conditions and is clearly communicating the role of military housing offices to residents.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner said in a statement that the report, issued Thursday, is evidence the Defense Department needs to quickly implement a residents “Bill of Rights” that Congress has passed into law.
The 18 “rights” include the right to live in housing and a community that meets applicable health and environmental standards, the right to have access to an electronic work order system that tenants can request maintenance and track their progress through, and the right to receive advice from military legal assistance on procedures for resolving disputes with property managers.
The Defense Department has said it would implement those “rights” by May, but others will take longer, such as the right to withhold rent until disputes are resolved, to get access to maintenance history and to have a process for dispute resolution.
“This GAO study, the result of a year-long investigation of privatized military housing, shows what many military families already know -- that the DoD has not done enough to protect service members and their families, who have been forced to put up with unacceptable living conditions in private military housing for far too long,” Warner said.
“We need to ensure that every single one of these provisions are implemented as soon as possible. As the GAO study pointed out, there needs to be more transparency in how work order data and maintenance records are tracked."
The GAO acknowledged that the military is conducting some oversight of privatized housing conditions, but said those efforts are limited when it comes to the physical condition of housing.
At Langley Air Force Base, only 10 to 20% of homes were inspected following change-of-occupant maintenance, the GAO said.
The GAO also noted that each military department may be using metrics that don’t accurately reflect whether residents are satisfied.
For example, private companies may perform well in providing a timely response to a maintenance request and earn good marks from the military for that, but focus group participants often said they had to get maintenance workers out multiple times before an issue was correctly fixed.
“The military departments each use a range of project-specific performance metrics to monitor private partner performance,” the GAO said. “However, the indicators underlying the metrics designed to focus on resident satisfaction and on the quality of the maintenance conducted on housing units may not provide meaningful information or reflect the actual condition of the housing units.”
The GAO made a dozen recommendations, including making sure military families know the difference between the military housing office and the private company, and to make it clear that families can contact their branch’s local housing office officials.
The report also recommended the Defense Department collect better and more consistent data on housing work orders. The Defense Department generally agreed with the recommendations.
This article is written by Brock Vergakis from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.