EXCLUSIVE: Survey results show major problems with housing on military bases, including Fort Stewart
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:
We continue to work with our Army partners to identify opportunities and implement solutions to improve privatized military housing and ensure all residents have access to a quality home supported by the highest level of responsive customer service. These efforts have included working closely with Fort Stewart leadership and the housing office to thoroughly address all issues and concerns identified in the recent Army housing review.
Every resident issue, concern and question is important to our team. We handle every service request according to an established policy and protocol, including guidance from our Environmental department and engagement with third-party specialty contractors when necessary. We have also initiated a 100% follow-up policy on all completed service requests to ensure that all work has been completed to the resident’s satisfaction and there are no further issues or concerns. We are also utilizing the third-party resident survey company SatisFacts to issue online surveys to capture resident feedback after move-in and all completed service requests.
Balfour Beatty Communities has several initiatives underway across our entire military housing portfolio aimed at improving maintenance responsiveness and quality of workmanship, providing additional training to resident-facing employees to ensure they are providing an exceptional customer service experience, as well as putting resources in place to ensure our residents are being heard, receiving the information they need, and getting their issues and concerns promptly resolved to their satisfaction.
At Fort Stewart, we are in the process of hiring a Quality Control Specialist who will bolster our efforts to provide additional levels of oversight and quality control on all service requests, as well as more robust training and development opportunities for our Maintenance team members. We have also added a new Resident Engagement Specialist who is solely dedicated to customer engagement and ensuring our residents are being heard and getting prompt and complete answers to their questions and concerns. As part of their aim to deliver world-class customer service, they may assist residents with questions about their home, providing information on the status of work orders, or even just helping new residents get to know the resources and amenities available in our community and the surrounding area. This position also focuses on resident education efforts, ensuring they know how to effectively manage their home, identify any safety or maintenance issues, and notify our maintenance team so we can deliver a prompt response.
We have also made efforts to more extensively promote our online Resident Portal (with associated smart phone app), which allows residents to seamlessly submit and track service requests 24/7 from their computer or mobile device. The Resident Portal also offers residents the ability to view community announcements, communicate with our team, and access community policies and forms, service schedules, health and safety information and information on schools and other area resources.
The top priority for our company and all of our military property teams remains taking care of our residents and making sure they are satisfied with all aspects of their living experience with us, from the condition of their home to the quality of their interaction with every member of our team. We will continue to work hand-in-hand with our Army partners with this singular objective in mind.
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