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Sgt. 1st Class Sharon Oliver, who works for the 8th U.S. Army’s resource management office, asked when Col. Ron Stephens would know when proposed moves from Hannam Village would happen. “I don’t know,” Stephens told about 100 people Tuesday night. “We are so close,” he added.
Sgt. 1st Class Sharon Oliver, who works for the 8th U.S. Army’s resource management office, asked when Col. Ron Stephens would know when proposed moves from Hannam Village would happen. “I don’t know,” Stephens told about 100 people Tuesday night. “We are so close,” he added. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

HANNAM VILLAGE, South Korea — Some residents at this military housing base will be allowed to move off base following complaints about sewage backups, insect problems and water leaks in their high-rise buildings, said the U.S. Army commander in charge of facilities in the Seoul area.

But government-funded private housing will not be automatic for all of the 1,000 servicemembers, family members, contractors and civilian workers now living at Hannam, said Col. Ron Stephens, Area II Support Activity commander.

Instead, families now in three partially occupied high-rises will move to “I Building,” a fourth high-rise now vacant after a recent plumbing overhaul.

Because of this consolidation, Stephens expects some shortages when comparing a family’s size to available apartments. Families facing such shortages will be allowed to move off post.

But off-base moves still will follow military housing rules, said Col. Paul Legere, head of Area II’s Directorate of Public Works: If a family qualifies for a two-bedroom apartment and a two-bedroom is available on base, that family must remain at Hannam.

Stephens asked families to tell his staff if they’re interested in moving off base. When he asked the question Tuesday night to a crowd of about 100, about eight people raised their hands.

Hannam’s low-rise building tenants aren’t part of the moving plan, he said. To move off base, they’ll have to get special permission and pay for their move.

“I’m trying to take care of you to the very best of my abilities,” Stephens told Tuesday night’s audience. “This is a political nightmare. We are trying to get you out of the ‘poo stew’ environment. But that will mean some sacrifices. I can’t give you what I’m not authorized to give you.”

“Poo stew” was among the more graphic complaints at Hannam residents’ last meeting with Stephens in January, when one used the phrase to describe the smell coming from his bathroom.

Housing complaints have thundered in recent months. Some of Hannam Village’s 1,000 residents say they enjoy living on a compact base filled with kids and community but resent its frequent plumbing and sewage problems.

Most problems are in the 15-story high-rises built in the early ’80s. Some 20 years later, washing-machine water drains into kitchen sinks, and sewage sometimes fills shower basins.

Problems have been compounded because the U.S. military leases the buildings from the Korean National Housing Corporation, a local group that is not required to hire English-speaking workers but is responsible for maintaining and improving the buildings. As U.S. Forces Korea plans an overall move out of Seoul, how much money the group will invest in the buildings is unclear, Army officials have said.

In a further snag, the Installation Management Agency holding the money for housing, roads and other facilities faces drastic cutbacks. “It’s no secret, IMA is broke,” Stephens said. “We are doing everything we can.”

He said he still awaits final approval for the Hannam plan. In January, he’d hoped it would be ready in two weeks.

On Tuesday evening, Stephens said he still knew neither when he might be able to release other details of the plan nor when the moves might start.

“You’ve got the biggest piece of the plan,” he said, adding that Tuesday night’s discussion covered about “90 percent” of the changes. He promised to hold another meeting as soon as the additional details were ready.

Also at the meeting ...

¶ Col. Ron Stephens, commander of Area II Support Activity, reminded residents that the Post Exchange store and the commissary at Hannam make decisions about the locations of their stores based on sales. “If you don’t use the facilities, you will lose them,” he said.

¶ Stephens also suggested that residents e-mail him directly with concerns if they had exhausted all other options. “I can’t help you unless I know about it,” he said. Shereece Payton said she had called his office three times and visited it once since the last meeting. Stephens apologized, saying he never received any of the messages.

¶ Two saunas for Hannam’s gym are on order. They should be installed in three to six months.

¶ Two portable basketball goals have been ordered for use in the racketball courts. They are expected to arrive in three to six months.

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