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At Fort Bragg, housing issues are still in the spotlight

In an April, 2019 file photo, Sgt. Andrew McNeil, left, a public affairs mass communication NCO with the 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, XVIII Airborne Corps, discusses his on-post housing concerns with Maj. Tabitha Hernandez and 1st Sgt. Jeremy Crisp, 22nd MPAD command team, during a command visit on Fort Bragg, N.C.

GREGORY T. SUMMERS/U.S. ARMY

By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: June 21, 2019

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — A Fort Bragg military spouse says housing issues she's had at the installation dating to May 2015 still persist.

Pennalla Evans spoke to The Fayetteville Observer in March about the issues in her home, which started with her air conditioner going out days after she moved to Fort Bragg in 2015. She and her family opted to temporarily move out of their military housing because of mold between Feb. 28 and March 11 this year.

During that time, housing officials were supposed to address the mold issue.

As of mid-June, Evans said, new problems have been discovered, and she believes ongoing problems exist in the St. Mere Eglise neighborhood home where she lives.

"We moved back into our house in mid-March, and we were told our house was safe to come back into and everything was fine, so we were under that impression," Evans said in a June 15 interview.

An air quality test of the home showed an above-normal possible presence of mold concentrations in the living room and Evans' daughters' bedroom.

The test also showed the moisture content of the master bathroom floor measured slightly higher than normal.

Post-test recommendations included dusting, vacuuming and professional carpet cleaning "to reduce the airborne mold concentrations."

"We figured, give it a chance," Evans said. "That's what we did — gave it a chance and started noticing that things weren't right."

In May, the family's air-conditioner unit went out. Evans said the family waited for hours to hear from a housing representative, but by that time it was after 10 on a school night.

As Evans and her husband tried to look into the problem themselves, they discovered another issue — water in a utility storage closet and what they believe is more mold along the vents of their heating and ventilation system.

Evans said she still thinks there are issues in the master bathroom.

Photos she provided to The Fayetteville Observer in March show what appears to be black spots and rust on a bathroom medicine cabinet. She provided an updated photo in June that shows the same medicine cabinet she said still has not been replaced.

Evans said Corvias representatives have made some repairs — a roofer was at the home in the spring — but she questions whether all the work is still "just patchwork," and whether the mold remediation in her home when the family temporarily moved out addressed the mold issues. Corvias is Fort Bragg's private housing contractor.

Corvias representatives said the company will not respond to specific resident complaints in the press, but it is working to address the concerns of all residents.

"At Corvias, we're committed to putting our residents first. We're sorry if any resident feels that their issue is not being or has not been resolved," said Kelly Douglas, a Corvias spokeswoman. "We're working hard to fix any issues for all our residents, and we continue to focus on meeting and exceeding residents' expectations."

In February, Fort Bragg and Corvias officials apologized for housing issues after investigations by Reuters in summer and fall 2018 revealed problems with lead paint, mold and health issues in military housing across the United States.

Douglas said changes Corvias has made at Fort Bragg in the past several months include:

  • Implementing an early-termination policy to enable residents to end their lease, without any additional charges, if they have home-related health or safety concerns;
  • Opening a Corvias call center on Feb. 4;
  • Adding an ombudsman to the team to serve as an advocate for residents. Douglas said the ombudsman, who started in May, is an intermediary between residents and Corvias property management;
  • Launching a mobile app for work order submissions;
  • Assigning maintenance technicians to specific neighborhoods to help develop familiarity and relationships between residents and the maintenance team;
  • Making follow-up calls after every service request is completed to ensure resident satisfaction;
  • In-home improvements such as gutter cleaning, air duct cleaning and pressure washing on all residences;
  • Community projects including playground upgrades and regular assessments to identify additional repair needs.

The military housing partner also has launched a portal that allows residents to make work order requests, provide photos and track the status of the request.

"For emergencies, we ask residents to continue to call into the call center so we can prioritize the emergency order," Douglas said.

Douglas said residents also can call the main call center, contact community offices for their specific neighborhood or email their concerns.

Corvias isn't the only entity that has taken steps to address Fort Bragg housing.

In February, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, directed installations across the country to host town hall meetings and walk through military housing to identify issues.

As of March 20, 1,342 residents at Fort Bragg had requested or agreed to a walkthrough of their homes by their chain of command, and 4,808 had declined.

Since March, the numbers remain the same, said Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps.

"Chains of command continue to be engaged with the quality of life of their soldiers, but we are no longer tracking command walkthroughs of quarters," Burns said, emphasizing that the life, health and safety of soldiers and their families in privatized housing or in barracks is a priority for senior commanders. "Leaders continue to offer courtesy visits to homes and barracks inspections for soldiers seeking assistance in identifying potential issues in their living quarters to ensure overall safe living conditions."

As with the chain of command, safe living conditions for soldiers and families is a priority for Fort Bragg's Directorate of Public Works, said Greg Jackson, Fort Bragg Directorate of Public Works housing chief.

The Directorate of Public Works has added seven permanent positions and 15 temporary positions to its staffing to focus on housing.

Jackson said all of those positions except two have been filled as of earlier this week.

"Since February, DPW Housing announced a few initiatives including hiring new team members, building a website and activating a DPW Housing advocate line," he said.

Resident work orders fall under Corvias, but Jackson said residents can call the Directorate of Public Works hotline, which is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if they feel the issue is not being addressed.

"DPW Housing is the advocate between the resident and Corvias," he said.

Since March 27, the severity of maintenance and repair requirements of Corvias-managed homes has decreased as increased inspections of vacant homes and work orders have been completed, Jackson said.

As of March 27, 27 families had temporarily relocated, with 10 moving into new Corvias housing, four choosing to move off post and 13 moving into temporary housing.

Jackson said 11 of the 13 families in temporary housing have since returned to their homes.

The two remaining families are in hospitality suites. One is awaiting relocation to a new home and the other will move to another installation later this month, Jackson said.

Evans, who is now in temporary housing, will move to Alabama in a few weeks.

"We're not one of these families trying to get on the gravy train," Evans said of why she's raising her concerns. "It's just not fair to the next family to inherit the problems (of this home) that we inherited from somebody else."

rriley@fayobserver.com

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