Army survey backs up families who went public with housing complaints
By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: September 19, 2019
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Most Army families surveyed earlier this year said they would leave privatized housing and move elsewhere if it was affordable, citing widespread dissatisfaction with conditions and procedures.
The Army Inspector General’s report, compiled in February and March and released in early September, painted a stark picture of privately-run housing programs at 49 Army installations, including Fort Eustis in Newport News.
As it was being compiled, military families from across all services were going public with complaints about privately-run housing. Some testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February. Later, Sen. Mark R. Warner convened roundtable discussions in Hampton Roads, which brought out a number of Navy families.
The recommendations in the Army report are already being addressed and a few have been completed, Army leaders have said. That’s also true at Fort Eustis, where officials in August ticked off a list of reforms put in place over the summer.
The Inspector General did not break down responses by location. Rather it documented broad concerns about housing conditions and the ability of local commanders to hold contractors accountable.
Nearly 70% of 1,108 survey respondents said they were dissatisfied with their overall privatized housing situation. Most of them, about 64%, said they would move off base “if there were no financial costs or concerns," the report states.
Residents at 48 of the 49 installations had problems with maintenance efforts, whether it was response to requests or following up after the job was done. Most residents didn’t have the ability to track work orders and 91% of respondents “expressed concerns about the professionalism of the maintenance staff," the survey states.
Army leaders at each installation had little idea of their role in holding housing providers accountable.
IG teams found “general confusion and frustration” regarding the authority granted to Army personnel to oversee privatized housing.
At nearly every installation, key Army personnel “did not have detailed working knowledge of Army regulations and policy governing (privatized housing) or baseline business agreements for their specific location," the report states.
The IG’s work is separate from an independent Army survey released in July that covered 43 installations. It showed an overall decline in scores and rated individual installations. Eustis ranked 37th of the 43 surveyed.
Will reforms make a difference?
The Army has since hired 114 employees to housing staffs at various installations and started classes to educate commanders on their responsibilities, according to a news release. They’ve established around-the-clock hotlines at all installations.
Improvements at Eustis include holding town hall meetings quarterly instead of once a year and beefing up inspections before new soldiers arrive. Phone surveys now follow up maintenance work. The housing provider, Balfour Beatty, has added two maintenance technicians and a work-order administrator.
Problems with privatized military housing came to light after an investigation by Reuters and a survey by the Military Family Advisory Network that was released on the eve of the February congressional hearing. MAFN has since issued more detailed findings.
“We knew this was a national issue,” said Shelley Kimball, senior director for research and program evaluation. “It wasn’t a one-off issue. Families are really struggling with housing.”
She is encouraged that reforms are being put in place, but said the work must continue.
“We’re seeing that services across the board are taking this seriously,” she said. “We’re glad to see that — that they’re listening to families.”
It is especially encouraging when tenants get personal attention from the military, whether through listening tours or knocking on doors. That must continue, Kimball said.
“We’re so grateful that families are speaking up and telling their stories,” she said, “and showing what’s happening under their roofs.”
Congress also will weigh in on proposed reforms. A House-Senate conference committee is working to finalize the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which serves as a blueprint for budget writers. It contains several provisions pushed by Virginia lawmakers.
One would allow withholding of rents and incentive fees to housing companies for not meeting established guidelines.
©2019 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
Visit the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) at www.dailypress.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.