March 07, 2019

Senators Introduce Bill To Protect Military Families Living In Private Housing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (both D-CA) today introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, a bill to address health, safety and environmental hazards in private military housing.

The legislation is in response to a recent Reuters investigation that found hazardous living conditions in privatized military housing throughout the United States, including service members and their families living in homes with persistent mold blooms, water leaks and rodent and insect infestations.

“Military families deserve first-rate housing, but I have heard from many servicemembers stationed in Virginia that companies providing private housing consistently fail to resolve health and safety problems in a timely fashion,” said Warner. “That’s unacceptable. Our legislation will give military officials and families more power to hold these companies accountable and make sure that they don’t get paid if they fail to fulfill their basic obligations.”

“The military must act quickly to address these dangerous housing conditions, and Congress should pass legislation to protect military families from ever having to go through this again,” said Kaine. “Our bill would help improve military oversight and increase accountability. This is about making sure service members can feel safe in their own homes, and I’ll be pushing for legislation like this to be included in this year’s national defense bill.”

“Service members shouldn’t have to worry about the health and safety of their families while protecting our country,” said Feinstein. “Unfortunately, many living in private military housing are dealing with hazardous conditions with little or no recourse and a military chain of command that has failed them. Our legislation would fix that. It would withhold rent from contractors until hazards are properly fixed, require military officials to ensure all private housing is up to code and empower service members to leave any home that is unsafe without fear of financial penalty.” 

“Our nation’s service members and their families make daily sacrifices to protect the nation, and they deserve fair treatment and comfortable living conditions back at home. I was extraordinarily troubled by reports last year of inadequate housing conditions at Camp Pendleton and visited with families living there in order to learn more about their housing needs,” said Harris. This legislation is an important step forward ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to provide quality housing for our service members and their families across the country.”

The Reuters investigation and military advocacy groups report that the companies that operate military housing are often non-responsive, provide only superficial fixes or blame the service member for the problems. In some instances, service members have been charged fees associated with the remediation of their own homes, including fees for leaving homes with persistent hazards. A recent survey conducted by the Military Family Advisory Network showed that more than 55 percent of respondents had a negative or very negative experience with privatized military housing.

The legislation would create stronger oversight mechanisms, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors 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.

Provisions of the bill include:

  • Basic allowance for housing: The installation commander shall withhold payment of a service member’s housing allowance until a military housing official has inspected an environmental, safety or health hazard, verified that appropriate remediation has taken place, and the service member concurs that the remediation is satisfactory. In the case that the hazard requires the service member to leave the housing unit, the housing company will pay all relocation costs. 
  • Housing costs: Ensures service members don’t have to pay a deposit, and any fee or penalty related to ending a lease early, except for normal wear and tear. The bill also requires contractors to reimburse service members for damage to their private property caused by a hazard.
  • Withholding incentive fees: Requires the Secretary of Defense to withhold incentive fees to any contractor who persistently fails to remedy hazards.
  • Common credentials: Creates standard credentials for health, safety and environmental inspectors across services, and including contractors, to ensure consistent inspection practices. 
  • Additional transparency for service members: Requires the Defense Department to establish an electronic system so that service members can track and oversee their work orders.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been outspoken advocates for service members and their families, pressing the Defense Department to address the health and safety hazards on military bases across Virginia. In August, Sens. Warner and Kaine asked the Army for a plan to address the dangerous conditions found on its bases, including Fort Belvoir in Virginia. In February, Sen. Warner met with Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, pressing for steps the Department plans to take to resolve serious health hazards in military housing.

Last week, the Senators wrote to the Secretaries of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Army, urging each branch to make improving military housing conditions a priority and requesting more information on the existing contracts with several private companies that manage thousands of family housing units at military bases across Virginia. In November, Sen. Warner also wrote to then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis addressing what the Senator termed “unacceptable conditions” in the homes, and demanded a briefing from the Defense Department on the situation as well as a plan from the Defense Department to ensure the safety of military families residing in private housing moving forward.  

Today in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Kaine called on military leaders to take immediate action to address the horrific conditions that have been found in military family housing. Tomorrow, Kaine will tour housing for military families in Hampton Roads and hear from residents about their experiences with privatized military housing.

On Monday, March 11, Sen. Warner plans to meet with Virginia military families in Newport News to hear firsthand about the hazardous living conditions they have experienced living in privatized military housing. Sen. Warner previously intervened in 2011 on behalf of military families stationed in Norfolk who described persistent problems with Lincoln Military Housing, one of the contractors identified in the recent Reuters report alleging hazardous living conditions.

 

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