FT. STEWART, Ga. (WTOC) - A new study released Wednesday unveiled what it said are widespread problems with privatized military housing. These families are being forced to deal with ongoing maintenance issues like leaks, mold, and even rats.
That situation can be a distraction for a member of the military from focusing on their mission. WTOC’s Investigative team worked with the Military Family Advisory network, a non-profit that exists to improve the lives of military and veteran families, to learn which issues impact Fort Stewart.
The Military Family Advisory Network sent out a survey to all military families living on bases with private housing; a whopping 17,000 responses came back, including 70 from Fort Stewart. The survey included items about satisfaction level with management and asked the responder to describe their experience living in privatized housing. The results shocked the organizers.
“We were overwhelmed by the number of respondents that we had and it really goes to show, these aren’t one off issues,” said Shannon Razsadin, the executive director of Military Family Advisory Network. “It’s a widespread problem and it’s something that needs to be acted on.”
Living on a base is often the cheapest option for military housing. In 1996, Congress passed the Military Privatization Housing Initiative; it allowed private companies, like Balfour Beatty on Fort Stewart, to take over housing at dozens of military bases. In doing so, the government signed 50-year, confidential leases with the private companies to manage the properties.
They are still considered federal property though. Reuters uncovered major problems within the program; Congress, the military, and many of the private companies have mentioned in public hearings that change is needed.
In this survey, military families reported dealing with maintenance issues like mold, lead paint, and even vermin in their homes. These families can’t turn to local politicians or housing resources for help when maintenance problems arise, because they live on federal property.
Under the lease agreement and the contracts between private contractors and the government, the rent stipends go directly to the companies.
“Military families don’t have recourse, so they never even see the money. It immediately goes from them to this privatized military company,” said Razsadin. “They don’t have the ability to withhold rent.”
Of the 3,090 people living in privatized housing on Fort Stewart, 70 responded to the survey.
“Ft. Stewart - the breakdown was really sort of illustrative of a lot of other areas. Maintenance of course came up on top, and then there was mold and concern about structure—structural integrity of their homes,” said Shelly Kimball, the director of research for the Military Family Advisory Network.
The 70 responders on Fort Stewart had the ability to select more than one issue if applicable. Their concerns ranged from maintenance to plumbing and leaks to fire hazards. This week, both Razsadin and Kimball will meet with the Department of Defense.
“It was very emotional to hear back their cries for help in so many ways,” said Kimball. “They’re not looking for a luxurious location, they really just want a basic safe healthy home.”
We reached out to families from the survey and are waiting to hear back about their specific issues.
Balfour Beatty replied to a request for comment, saying: