There was a lot of
Know who isn’t surprised? Military families.
Having an on-base house with mold, or that’s causing other health and safety issues, isn’t news to us. Working with falling apart base housing is just a part of military life. And it’s one that military spouses have been handling for years.
Mold in Base Housing? This Isn’t News to MilFams
When I joined the military spouse ranks, one of the first things I learned was to get the gouge on where to live. I learned not to stop at checking out the physical location of the home, but to dig into the actual history of the property.
A decade ago, USMC spouses at Camp Pendleton were very aware of the housing issues. We were lucky enough to snag a newly built home. Our house only had faulty (brand new) carpets that deteriorated quickly and stained easily. Plus some neighborhood water mains and electric lines that went down pretty often, considering they were brand spanking new.
We all know about the townhouses located in the next neighborhood. How did we know? Because
We all knew.
Residents started complaining about health issues directly to the housing management company. Some of them got moved into newer housing. Others were told to, essentially, “suck it up.”
The mold-filled homes that they left weren’t gutted to the studs or torn down though. Instead, they were briefly, to my untrained eye, cleaned, minorly spruced up and then rented out again. Folks were given a discounted rate, with some of their BAH being refunded monthly. But they were also living in homes that were likely still filled with black mold.
Base Hazards Aren’t New
The DoD just spent years fighting allegations, now proven, about on-base water contamination at Camp Lejeune. Recent reports show that many, if not most, military bases have some level of unsafe groundwater.
Why are we shocked that base housing would be any different than the water?
It’s not new for military spouses to get the run around when we ask for answers or action. We’re used to the standard line of “We don’t do that here.” Or “It’s not in the regulations.” Hearing “It’s above my pay grade” is getting really old at this point.
If it’s not “your” pay grade or responsibility, I’d like to know who actually is in charge. Who do I talk to about my very real concerns? I’d like a name and a number.
No Plausible Deniability
When we have many hundreds, if not thousands, of cases with rampant mold, lead paint, decrepit walls and more, there is no longer plausible deniability at any level.
Housing companies knew about these issues. ICE complaints were no doubt filed, emails were sent and phone calls were made.
Political leaders, at practically every level, knew about these issues. Perhaps not every Congressional leader or local official in the entire nation. But enough of the leaders in major military hubs should have had this on their radars. Again, calls were made, emails were sent and no meaningful action was taken.
Military families are generally good at documenting things. It’s a skill we’ve honed over years of moving school and medical records, reiterating ongoing concerns to the powers that be, controlling the documents in our households and moving around the world. We’re good at taking the picture, getting the letter and building that paper trail.
It’s all right there, in black and white. Sometimes in living color, especially the pictures of ill children and falling down homes.
To Make a Buck
It’s a running joke in the military. Like your job, but want to double your pay? Become a military contractor.
When the US DoD handed over control of on-base housing to private companies, it shoved military families into no man’s land. There is apparently no higher authority to complain to about issues with housing.
We can’t go to local officials because we’re technically on federal land. Talking to military officials is also out because the DoD no longer controls the houses or their management.
Which leaves us with the actual companies. Except they don’t seem to answer to anyone. They’ve got lengthy contracts for the land and houses, loosely worded. There is no one providing checks on their systems or inspecting the homes.
Instead, the companies are making hand over fist, collecting full BAH allotments from each and every military family living in base housing. No remittance or refunds for falling down homes, for documented health problems, for loss of property due to housing issues.
Start Listening & Taking Action
I’m incredibly proud of the brave military spouses who have been speaking up. Sitting in front of Congress must be incredibly intimidating. Sharing your story in any capacity, in person or through digital media, takes strength and courage.
It’s time that we hold the privatized housing CEOs and Congressional leaders accountable. We need to keep talking about our housing issues, sharing our concerns and asking the hard questions.
Military spouses are a resilient community, ready to take action and make big changes. Let’s work together to create positive change in military housing and hold the decision makers responsible.
What has your base housing experience been? We’d love to share your stories, insights, and advice!