Lawmakers say they still hear reports of ‘horror stories’ in on-post housing, blast company for declining to testify
Lawmakers continue to hear of unacceptable living conditions in privately run, on-base military housing more than one year after passing major reforms meant to address those issues, they told executives running some of the largest companies in charge of maintaining the residences.
“We have heard and seen firsthand horror stories in these houses, from mold, to water leaks to incorrect lead abatement that has directly affected the health and safety of these families,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who is the chairwoman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subpanel on military personnel. “I have visited Fort Hood [in Texas] and met military families who have been living in these unacceptable housing conditions, who have seen their children suffer health problems after mold consumed their homes and belongings — even a baby’s crib. You are solely responsible for the correction of these defects and the management of these properties.”
Top representatives for three of the four largest companies that run privatized on-post housing told House Armed Services Committee members on Wednesday that they were making progress in improving housing conditions and customer service at hundreds of locations that they run across the United States. Those testifying before a joint session of the House committee’s personnel subpanel and its readiness subpanel included executives from Balfour Beatty Communities, Lendlease Americas, and the Corvias Group LLC.
The executives said the companies believe they are on the right track – improving communication with their residents, responding to problems quicker and undergoing internal company reorganizations since the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act mandated a series of private military housing reforms following news reports that revealed widespread subpar conditions in on-post residences on dozens of bases.
Carolyn Tregarthen, the managing director of Lendlease America, which is responsible for housing on Fort Hood among other installations, said she was aware issues persisted at the Texas post, calling it “a top priority.”
The company plans to pour nearly half of a new $1.1 billion investment for housing improvements at six U.S. installations into upgrades at Fort Hood, Tregarthen said.
Speier said she was pleased with that commitment and told Tregarthen that she intended to visit the post again. But Speier and other top committee members reserved the bulk of the ire for Clark Realty Capital, which declined to participate in Wednesday’s hearing.
Clark runs housing at about a dozen military locations, including Fort Belvoir, Va., just south of Washington. Speier and other lawmakers said Wednesday that they were recently briefed by housing advocates from Fort Belvoir who described “disturbing conditions” at housing on the post.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., who is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subpanel, said Clark’s refusal to join the Wednesday hearing “disrespected these two committees.”
“So, since Clark, you won't come to us, we're going to go to you,” Garamendi said. “A little sashay down the [Potomac] River to find out what's going on at Fort Belvoir and why Clark has had such a bad review. So, heads up, we're coming your way, and we may not give you much time to know when we arrive.”
Two military families filed a lawsuit last week against Clark charging conditions in family housing that it oversees for the Naval Postgraduate School and the Army’s Presidio of Monterey, Calif., contained mold that sickened their children and ruined their personal belongings.
Lawmakers applauded the other three companies for participating in the hearing and urged them to continue working to improve.
“There is still work to be done, but we have made progress,” Garamendi said. “I’d like to thank the three partners who are with us today. It hasn’t been easy and we haven’t always agreed, but you have shown up for the discussion, answered the tough questions, and participated in this process.”
The housing company executives said they expected to be fully in compliance with the 2020 NDAA-mandated Tenant Bill of Rights before the permanent-change-of-station season begins, which is typically in June.
The company executives said they were all already in compliance with nearly all of the 18 entitlements laid out in that agreement meant to address the quality of housing, how to handle disputes with a landlord, a better understanding of leases, and the maintenance history of a residence.
All but three of the tenant rights have now been implemented across all military privatized housing, officials said Wednesday. And, Balfour Beaty, Lendlease and Corvias said they have agreed to implement the remaining entitlements, including the 7-year maintenance history, which those companies reported they had already begun providing to prospective residents.
Leandlease, for example, began providing 7-year histories in the summer and has since provided more than 11,000 to potential residents, Tregarthen said. She testified only 16 residents chose to switch to a different home or unit after reviewing the history.
The other two remaining entitlements to be enacted are a clearly defined dispute resolution process and a standard lease across the military. Tregarthen and other officials said they were in agreement with the Pentagon on the language regarding those issues and would soon implement them.
Rick Taylor, the president of facilities, operation and construction for Balfour Beatty, acknowledged his company has made missteps, but it is working to ensure better communication with its residents and to track metrics through new technologies to hold its employees accountable for their work, which aims for “first-class service.”
“We understand that our military residents have a choice, and we want to be their option of choice,” he said. “If we find we’ve lost the trust our residents because we’re not addressing their daily needs, then we ought to be held to account and make sure that we do what we need to do to improve.”