Fort Gordon families say base housing still plagued with mold, sewage and other problems
Stars and Stripes April 18, 2023
Erin Greer, her husband and their children have lived with poor housing conditions on Fort Gordon for more than six years, she said Tuesday, describing moldy walls, flooded bathrooms — sometimes with sewage water — and a partially collapsed ceiling in their residence.
Last year, after several failed attempts to convince the Balfour Beatty officials in charge of the Fort Gordon housing of the problems plaguing their home, Greer moved her family out — deciding it was safer to sleep in their cars or outside on their porch than stay inside the house, she said during a Senate oversight session in Washington. While the issue of substandard military housing has made national headlines for years and sparked numerous Pentagon, congressional and independent inquiries, the problems, at least at Fort Gordon, have not improved, Greer told Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.
“I want you to know that the problems with Balfour [Beatty] have not gone away,” Greer said, fighting back tears. “The situation has gotten worse.”
Ossoff called the oversight session Tuesday after visiting Fort Gordon last week, where Army officials began a post-wide inspection of every housing unit on the installation. The officials, Ossoff said, will spend the coming weeks looking at every privatized family housing unit, every barracks room and every other dwelling on the Army post, which is just outside Augusta, Ga.
The session came about one year after Ossoff led a bipartisan inquiry into issues plaguing Fort Gordon housing that found in April 2022 that Balfour Beatty-run housing on the installation contained “numerous examples” of poor living conditions since at least 2019. The report stated Balfour Beatty officials repeatedly ignored residents’ complaints about mold and closed out maintenance requests without fixing problems, among other problematic behaviors.
In the months since the Ossoff-led report was published, the senator said he has seen signs of progress from Balfour Beatty officials at Fort Gordon. The company has hired more maintenance staff at the installation, put in some new quality-assurance measures — including for gas issues after a major leak last year hospitalized a resident — and has expanded its training and education requirements for its technicians, the senator said.
“Balfour Beatty must sustain these efforts,” Ossoff said.
However, he said he has seen “several persistent areas of concern. In particular, the [ongoing] investigation found that Balfour Beatty continues struggling to ensure the technical quality of maintenance work, to consistently identify and remediate mold in tenant homes, to ensure the accuracy and integrity of all work orders submitted, and to adequately plan for the medium- and long-term sustainability of the housing project at Fort Gordon.”
Ossoff also was critical of Balfour Beatty’s decision to decline his invitation to participate Tuesday in the public oversight session. The lack of representation of the company, the senator said, “calls into question their commitment to transparency and their commitment to improvement.”
The senator said company officials had complied with Ossoff’s requests for documents and answered questions privately in recent months.
A Balfour Beatty Communities spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement that the company was committed to working with Ossoff and the Army to ensure “health, safety, and well-being” for its residents. The spokesperson acknowledged the company had “more work to do.”
“We appreciate that the progress being made has been recognized,” the statement read. “We declined the invitation to participate in [Tuesday’s] event because we have multiple two-way communication channels in place to maintain transparency into maintenance requests, keep residents informed, and allow them to share their feedback and raise concerns, and because we continue to meet routinely with the local Military Housing Office and Command to ensure any resident housing concerns are being appropriately addressed by our team.”
Greer was among three Army spouses to provide testimony Tuesday on the living conditions for families in Fort Gordon housing. While the other spouses described similar conditions and experiences at Fort Gordon, Greer was the only one who now lives in Balfour Beatty-run, on-post housing. She said she expects to leave Fort Gordon soon, as her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Greer, is in the process of retiring from the service.
As she spoke Tuesday in Washington, Greer said the floor in one of her bathrooms at their Fort Gordon home remained covered “in liquid sewage” from a leaky toilet that she said she has spent years trying to get maintenance officials to fix.
Last year, she told Ossoff, after repeatedly imploring maintenance staff to address mold in her home, she hired a third-party inspector to assess the problems in her house.
“To our shock, we were told our home as well as our [heating, air condition and ventilation] system was completely infested with toxic mold,” Greer said. “He provided a written certification that said our home was unfit for human occupancy.”
For two weeks, Greer and her family moved out of the house, even though they could not afford to pay for a hotel room. Eventually, after providing maintenance officials with the independent inspector's mold report, Balfour Beatty provided the family 10 days in a hotel room while they addressed the mold issues. Greer said they did not fully remedy the problems, and some mold “remains to this day.”
“We told Balfour that the house was still unlivable,” she said. "They disagreed with us, and they refuse to refund any rental payments and told us that we would pay penalties if we broke our lease. We felt we had no alternatives and stayed in the house.”
Army officials who participated in the oversight session said they were disturbed by Greer and the other spouses' assertions about their living conditions.
“I'm very, very sorry for the hardships these families have endured,” said Rachel Jacobson, the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. “What you've described today and what you have experienced is unacceptable. And we, the Army, at every level are committed to remedying this situation.”
Jacobson said the Army has seen some improvements from Balfour Beatty and other companies responsible for running privatized, on-post housing in recent years. Nonetheless, she said she last year issued Balfour Beatty a notice of non-compliance with the terms of their lease for Fort Gordon housing, asserting the company had not done enough at the time to ensure the safety of Army families living there. Jacobson said the company has since complied with the issues cited in her notice and has delivered new plans for quality assurance and quality control for Fort Gordon housing.
She said top Army officials are much more aware of the problems plaguing on-post living quarters than they had been in recent decades. At Fort Gordon, for example, she said the Army has committed some $12 million for construction of new town home-style family housing and another $5.1 million for renovations of existing homes. The new housing will fall under Balfour Beatty’s administration.
The Army has hired nearly two dozen engineering specialists to “oversee construction activities” at Fort Gordon to ensure those projects are properly and safely completed to service standards.
“We’ve had a wakeup call,” Jacobson said. “So, this construction will be very closely supervised and monitored by Army personnel, and we’ve professionalized our own staff to be able to do that.”
Ossoff pledged continued oversight on housing issues at Fort Gordon and other Georgia military installations, saying he worried the problems with housing could be a factor in the military’s recent recruiting downturn and could lead to problems retaining good troops in the service.
“I’m going to remain focused on this. Apparent signs of progress need to become real, specific, measurable progress that is felt by the families on this post,” the senator said. “When I return to hold another town hall with enlisted personnel [at Fort Gordon] — and I’ll do it again later this year — I need to hear from them that their experience has changed in a meaningful way.”