WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) wrote today to four private military housing companies in order to request strategies from each company on how they plan to tackle the deplorable health hazards documented by military families in Virginia and throughout the nation. These letters come two weeks after roundtables in Norfolk and Fort Lee, where Sen. Warner spoke with a housing company, military officials, and affected families who were upset by conditions in their homes and frustrated about the lack of response from their respective housing companies.
Letters were addressed to the heads of Lincoln Property Company, which provides 36,000 housing units for military families nationwide, including 5,700 units for Navy and Marine Corps servicemembers stationed at Dahlgren, Wallops, Quantico, and throughout Hampton Roads; Balfour Beatty Communities, Clark Realty Capital Companies, and Hunt Military Communities, which manage military homes for families stationed at Fort Belvoir, Fort Story, Fort Eustis, and Fort Lee; and Hunt Military Communities, which manages approximately 1,430 units at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
“Numerous meetings and roundtables that my office has organized with servicemembers and their families, the military, and private companies have all highlighted a number of unacceptable problems in the Military Housing Privatization Initiative that must be addressed immediately,” wrote Sen. Warner. “The status quo cannot be allowed to continue.”
In the letters, Sen. Warner requested that any plan of action address the following issues reported at private military housing by servicemembers and their families:
- Lack of adequate credentials/expertise by maintenance providers hired by private military companies. These providers are frequently not qualified and/or certified to fix health hazards and other problems, which can result in superficial fixes or outright failures to fix these hazards.
- Excessive fees charged to military families in order to remediate hazards. Families facing these fees allege that they have little to no recourse to challenge the charges, even when they are not at fault. Moreover, some families believe that they have no ability to demand compensation from the companies when their furnishings are ruined due to leaks or mold; or when inadequate and unsafe housing forces them to relocate or stay at hotels.
- Air quality issues, including the presence of mold and mold spores. As a result of hazards, many families have reported allergic and/or respiratory reactions to these hazards; some families even described experiencing lead and carbon monoxide poisonings.
- Inadequate communication and transparency between servicemembers and the private companies about health hazards in homes, including lead and mold, the status of work orders, and the resolution of hazards.
Sen. Warner also requested that, in crafting a plan, military housing companies consider the following questions:
- How will you improve your communication with tenants, so that the tenants and the military services have greater transparency regarding the safety of their homes, beginning at move-in, as well as the status of work orders? Will you consider using an electronic system, with a mobile app, which would enable tenants, military service representatives and the companies to track work orders in real-time?
- How will you better resolve disputes between your company and the tenants themselves, whether related to disputes over damages, fees, or whether or not a problem has been adequately addressed? Will you consider creating a third-party, independent dispute resolution mechanism in coordination with the military services?
- Can you describe how you will improve your mold remediation standard operating procedures and other processes to improve air quality and reduce health hazards? Will you consider offering mold inspections, as well as air quality testing to residents, especially if suggested by a medical professional? Given the absence of EPA and federal standards around mold and mold spores, will you work to implement clear standards, established by the military services to ensure healthy air quality?
- And finally, how will you significantly improve the quality of military housing overall – at move-in and beyond – to ensure that families no longer struggle with mold, lead, rodent infestations, asbestos and more, so that we are not in this situation again in another seven years?
In February, Sen. Warner introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act in response to a Reuters investigation that revealed health, safety, and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States. This legislation would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, and prohibit contractors from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.