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Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., tours family housing at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., with Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., in an undated photo.
Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., tours family housing at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., with Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., in an undated photo. (Office of Rep. Kendra Horn)

To continue to increase oversight on military housing, Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., led a bipartisan coalition that introduced legislation to provide stronger protections for families renting on-base residences from private contractors.

“Military families have experienced unsafe and unhealthy housing conditions at privatized on-base [homes] in Oklahoma and nationwide,” Horn said. “This blatant disregard for service members and families who have put everything on the line for our country is unconscionable.”

The Military Housing Oversight, Maintenance, and Enhancement for Servicemembers Act, or Military HOMES Act, creates uniform basic housing standards and inspection requirements for all government-owned and controlled military housing, while also providing reimbursement for families who lost property due to mold damage, transparency in performance incentive fees for contractors and a dedicated housing liaison to assist families navigating on-base housing problems.

Horn, whose district includes Tinker Air Force Base, said in a statement that the bill is part of an ongoing fight to secure safe housing for military families across the country. Nearly two years ago, news reports made public what military families had known for years – that base housing exposed families to a variety of hazardous conditions such as lead paint, asbestos, rodent and insect infestations, and toxic levels of mold caused by poor maintenance and preventive measures.

The crisis spurred an intervention by Congress, which helped push forward a tenant bill of rights, among other reforms. But a recent Defense Department inspector general report found more improvement still was needed.

Horn said she was proud to support the tenant bill of rights, which went into effect in May but included only 15 of the 18 rights required by Congress. The Military HOMES Act is the next step in “providing additional protections for service members and increasing transparency in military housing,” she said.

Original cosponsors include Reps. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., Andy Kim, D-N.J., and Michael Turner, R-Ohio.

Waltz co-authored the tenant bill of rights legislation that passed as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and annual funding for the Defense Department. Horn’s office said they are working to pass the bill outright and also add its measures to the 2021 NDAA.

“Our service members have risked everything to protect our nation and preserve our freedoms,” Waltz said in a statement. “They should not have to worry about the health and welfare of their families while performing their duty in the service of our country.”

Many of the measures in the Military HOMES Act address challenges military families continue to face with base housing.

The IG report stated while there has been progress made to improve military housing, there is still work to be done in areas including mold remediation, streamlining policies and procedures, and completing preventive repairs.

The subject of reimbursement for personal property damaged or destroyed by mold has come up in lawsuits filed by military families against the private companies that manage housing on bases across the country. At least seven suits are pending in federal courts in Texas, Florida, California and Maryland. Twitter: @Rose_Lori

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.
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