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Military housing crisis sparks outreach effort to contact every Marine about living conditions

U.S. AIR FORCE

By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 22, 2019

WASHINGTON — Almost 7,000 Marines requested that their commanders visit their homes as part of a nearly completed outreach effort to address the U.S. military housing crisis.

The Marine Corps has contacted more than 99% of servicemembers and their families about their housing, the service announced Monday. The effort follows an instruction from Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, to commanders on Feb. 22 to contact servicemembers and their families about their housing, including military and off-base civilian rentals, according to a Marine Corps statement.

“I have instructed commanders to publish policies and take actions to ensure our Marines, sailors, and families have the living accommodations they deserve,” Neller said in the prepared statement. “Ultimately, military family housing is a leadership issue.”

More than 91,300 servicemembers were contacted by their commands as of Monday, according to the Marine Corps. Of those Marines, 6,964, or 7.6%, requested home visits by their commands and 7,730, or 8.5%, requested phone calls to “explain the process for resolving their concerns,” the statement reads.

The majority of Marines contacted, 76,139, or 84%, said they did not want additional assistance or visits by their commands for “a variety of reasons,” according to the statement. However, no examples of reasons were provided.

“Since the program was voluntary, Marines were not required to give a reason for not wanting a member of the command team to visit their residence,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joseph Butterfield wrote in an email.

In February, military families testified on Capitol Hill about unhealthy living conditions in military housing, including mold and rodent infestations, and problems they were having with their privatized military housing companies. A 2018 Reuters investigative story spotlighted horrible conditions faced by some military families and a Military Family Advisory Network survey on military housing in February found that more than half of respondents had a “negative or very negative experience” with the privatized housing.

Senior civilian and military leadership from each of the service branches were questioned before congressional committees about what was being done to resolve the housing issues raised by the families. Senior military noncommissioned officers and personnel chiefs testified Feb. 27 during a Senate subcommittee hearing that the poor housing conditions were due to a failure in leadership. Military commanders at installations around the world conducted home visits and hosted town hall meetings to understand the housing conditions of their servicemembers and families.

In the wake of the housing controversy, the Army and the Navy have set up initiatives to gather information from servicemembers and their families about problems they might be experiencing. The Army has set up a registry for current and former housing residents to document concerns they might have with housing health and safety issues. The Housing Environment Health Response Registry is a 24/7 phone line on which callers will receive information related to housing environmental health hazards and where they can seek medical care for housing-related illnesses. The Army’s leadership also will be told what housing health concerns are being shared to the registry.

The Navy has set up a survey for sailors to give their opinions anonymously about their privatized military housing, including concerns they have with their homes and services provided by the housing companies and the community. The independently conducted survey is going to about 36,200 residents in family housing and 6,000 sailors in unaccompanied housing this month.

The Marine Corps said Monday that its outreach accomplished three goals: raising awareness of the living conditions of servicemembers, identifying maintenance or safety issues, and making certain servicemembers and families understood and were aware of processes and programs available to address housing problems.

The home visits that were requested found some of the same concerns that had been identified earlier in the year, such as maintenance not being completed in a timely manner, lack of communication by private housing companies and the Marine Corps to residents, a lack of awareness about existing resolution processes, and dissatisfaction with the housing assignment and acceptance process, according to the Marines statement.

Some of the ways that the Marine Corps is looking to address the issues include having the privatized housing companies maintain a 24-hour hotline for maintenance requests and adding quality assurance personnel to the military housing offices to address the housing assignment and acceptance process, according to the statement. The service is also in the process of scheduling a third-party survey to “further identify housing issues.”

“While the housing visitation program has not been prescribed as a recurring event, commanders are expected to remain involved in the well-being of their Marines, sailors and their families, and to remain available as an advocate on their behalf to address housing issues,” Butterfield wrote in an email.

kenney.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @caitlinmkenney  

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