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Military housing construction underway as Army undersecretary visits Fort Lee

Undersecretary of the Army James E. McPherson discusses military housing outside of a newly-renovated Jackson Circle house on Fort Lee on Oct. 7, 2020.

LEILIA MAGEE, THE PROGRESS-INDEX/TNS

By LEILIA MAGEE | The Progress-Index | Published: October 10, 2020

FORT LEE (Tribune News Service) — Hunt Military Properties, the company that manages housing on Fort Lee, has finally begun the facelift on the base's oldest housing development.

Jackson Circle is home to 174 units mostly built in the late 90s, with the earliest dating back to the 1960s. Sen. Mark Warner came to visit the base and talk with some of the families that lived there back in 2019. Families were experiencing issues with mold, infestations, and dissatisfaction with remediation efforts. Around the same time, he co-sponsored legislation that aimed to address health, safety and environmental hazards in the privatized military housing.

Hunt began the Fort Lee repairs this August, although the company claims the pressure from Warner didn't have an effect on the timeline.

More: Warner: ‘Urgency’ needed for post housing

More: Housing contractor, senator disagree over what prompted $50M Fort Lee project

The 10-year plan involves $55 million to upgrade housing on base across four developments, with phase one and $15.6 million going towards Jackson Circle housing. Over 750 units will be renovated out of the base's 1,508 total. Repairs will include new appliances and windows, updated HVAC systems, an open-concept floor plan, and more. Initially, the Jackson Circle portion of the project was expected to be completed in March 2022, but may be done as early as November 2021.

Two of the 174 units were completed as of last Friday.

Army Undersecretary James E. McPherson stopped by Fort Lee as part of a series of visits to Army installations across the country to discuss Army goals with soldiers and leadership. He brought up the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has altered the way the Army functions, from leadership visits to virtual training and digital handbooks, but that the Army as a whole is adapting.

"Even in this COVID atmosphere, we're doing training. We keep our readiness level where it needs to be. We're getting after it, even though COVID is upon us," said McPherson, emphasizing the "bubble" that soldiers and trainees are in once on base.

The reason for his visit, however, was to address the issue of housing at Fort Lee.

"We partnered with private housing, Hunt in this case, at all our installations," he said of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, MHPI, in 1996. "... Unfortunately, what the Army did at that time is sort of take a step back from housing. It no longer belonged to us; it belonged to a private contractor. That was the wrong answer. We didn't realize that was the wrong answer until about two years ago."

In 2019, 10 families on-base at Fort Meade in Maryland filed a class action lawsuit against housing management company Corvias that alleged the company provided a lackluster response to rampant mold issues in 2018.

"I went to Fort Meade with then-Secretary of the Army [Mark] Esper, then-Chief of Staff of the Army [Mark] Milley, and walked through those homes that they did, and they were in pretty bad shape. Lots of mold, lots of disrepair, and we realized that we army had to take responsibility for that." said McPherson. "We have about 85,000 homes in Army inventory and in the next five to eight years, we will either renovate or replace 90% of those homes."

In the meantime, construction continues in a vacant Jackson Circle as families were relocated earlier this year. COVID-19 is not expected to pose any issues for the timeline or method of construction.

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