I must admit my experience with military housing has overall been very positive, but I never lived on an installation until my husband was a more senior officer. Recent news reports have me horrified at what is going on with our military families and the substandard housing they have had to live in. Privatizing housing was supposed to fix all of that. These companies are racking in huge profits at the expense of our military families while receiving long term contracts, subsidies and low interest federal loans. Everything from moldy, rodent filled homes to excessive utility fees are hurting our struggling families especially the junior enlisted military members who do not have the disposable income to move.
These contracts allow companies such as Corvias Property and Balfour Beatty Communities which isn’t even a U.S. company to manage military housing. Most housing is almost always 100% occupied with usually a two-week period to turn the houses over. Only about 30-50% turnover each summer. For a landlord this is an exceptionally high rate of return netting these companies a high profit margin.
Recently 10 military families filed a lawsuit accusing Corvias Property Management who overseas the housing at Fort Meade, of 14 charges including gross negligence and Fraud. The families say they were stuck in mold-infested, substandard housing and were unable to move because the company received their BAH each month making it difficult financially to move or by charging fees to break the lease. The suit is being closely watched by Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) who personally had members of his staff visit Fort Meade to report on the conditions.
It is not just Fort Meade either, Corvias was also the subject of a congressional hearing relating to properties they managed in North Carolina. At all the locations families complained how their maintenance requests were rarely fixed or took way to long. Mold and rodents raised concerns about heath with many families suffering severe respiratory and allergy illnesses.
A recent Reuters investigation documented similar allegations against Balfour Beatty Communities which is even more egregious as it is not a U.S. company but based out of the United Kingdom. At multiple bases former employees related how they forged maintenance repair data reports so that Balfour Beatty could collect millions in bonuses from the Defense Department. So outrageous! The employees felt pressured to doctor the reports so they wouldn’t lose their jobs.
There are not any specifics as investigations are ongoing but the FBI and Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) are pursuing fraud allegations at three bases and OSI is persuing allegations at a fourth base. According to the Reuters report the Army is also investigating the company.
What can you do if you are experiencing some of these issues?
- Report to housing and schedule work orders. Mold is extremely dangerous and is considered an emergency. These work orders should be addressed immediately.
- If you are given the run around have the service member talk to their chain of command.
- Give the system time to work, if not the Inspector General on base may be able to help. You can write your Congressman for assistance.
- If issues in the home put your family at risk and you wish to move but can’t financially make a visit to organization on your base like Army Emergency Relief who can assist with loans or grants.
I grew up with the saying “Don’t Air Your Dirty Laundry in Public” but when it comes to the safety and health of our military families we need to loudly say enough. Those that are in a position should help younger families who may need a voice to help them resolve and address their concerns. Often those new to the system think they must accept shoddy work. Hopefully with all the attention the substandard housing is getting in the media this will be resolved soon.
Marguerite Cleveland is a freelance writer who specializes in human interest and travel stories. She is a military brat, a veteran and now a military spouse. Her military experience is vast as the daughter of a Navy man who served as an enlisted sailor and then Naval Officer. She served as an enlisted soldier in the reserves and on active duty, then as an Army Officer. She currently serves as a military spouse. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. Visit her website www.WanderWordsWine.com