MacDill hires resident advocate to address mold and other family housing problems
By ILEANA NAJARRO | Tampa Bay Times | Published: September 8, 2020
TAMPA, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Families living on MacDill Air Force Base have a new place to turn when maintenance and safety issues arise in their homes. Yet some residents, past and present, say more work remains to gain their trust that problems will be solved.
Last year, at least eight families living on base reported mold and other problems in their homes. Five families filed a lawsuit against property owners and managers for what they said were years of negligence. The litigation is ongoing. All of MacDill’s family housing is owned and managed by private companies.
In May, officials appointed William Farnand as the new resident advocate, part of the installation’s response to such concerns. The Air Force civilian employee reports to the 6th Air Refueling Wing vice commander and serves as an additional point of contact for residents in need.
Specifically, Farnand said, if a resident has worked with their landlord, a senior official with the property owner and the military housing office and hasn’t resolved a housing problem, he gets involved. He can reach out directly to agencies across the base to help find a solution.
If they haven’t already contacted their landlord, Farnand helps residents get a work order in and go through the process. He plans to host Zoom meetings next week to introduce himself to family members on base.
“Our goal is to provide a safe and healthy house for our tenants,” Farnand said.
Base leaders also have hosted town hall meetings and legal workshops to advise residents of their rights, and created a Resident Voice Council, said Col. Benjamin Jonsson, commander of the 6th Air Refueling Wing.
Resident Valerie Ryan said this week that having yet another point of contact in the housing repair process may not help.
Ryan, whose Air Force husband is on a one-year tour overseas, moved into MacDill housing in April. By June, she said, she started noticing her living room floor getting wetter each day. She said she saw mold under the house and believed she needed a new air conditioning unit.
By mid-August, repairs were done, but she wasn’t happy with the result and said she felt disrespected by representatives of the property owner and the military housing office.
“Either the government’s on our side or they’re not, and it’s very clear that they’re not,” she said.
Farnand reached out to Ryan on Sept. 2 and advised her to put in work orders and email him copies so he can make sure the work gets done, she said.
“I’ll listen to their concerns and come to a resolution and find out what’s going on,” Farnand said.
Michaels Management Services, which manages MacDill’s housing, has enhanced communication and training among its employees and subcontractors, according to president Ron Hansen. This includes inspections that go beyond the requested repair to get ahead of any potential mold problems in housing, he said.
The number of work orders at MacDill dealing with mold has gone down this year compared to last, Hansen said, but he could not provide exact numbers. A lot of the frustration among families who dealt with mold in the past had to do with feeling like they weren’t being heard, Hansen said.
Farnand said he wants residents to be part of the ongoing discussion about base housing.
But his presence comes too late for Traci Lenz, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last year.
“We are thankful to see a continued effort to improve the process for those who continue to be affected by the conditions of their homes on MacDill,” Lenz said in a text. “Unfortunately, these measures were not in place when we were forced to leave our home in early 2019.”
As new wing commander, Col. Jonsson said in a statement that he is committed to “finishing what we started a year and a half ago to provide safe, quality housing for all of our residents, so that they can stay focused on our mission of defending the nation.
“If there are concerns that aren’t being addressed, we want to hear about them so we can make it right.”