SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Leaders at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield say big changes are underway to address what the military calls a ‘housing crisis.’
Some of the biggest changes have to do with military oversight and accountability of the private company that owns and maintains military housing. Despite the government’s decision to privatize housing, military leaders tell us their responsibility to hold these companies accountable never goes away.
Balfour Beatty manages on-base housing. They used to do move-in and move-out inspections on their own. Government employees now tag along. That is one of several changes made in the last 90 days.
The base held a town hall several months ago and got more than 100 complaints about housing.
“From those concerns, we realized, hey, we need to do some additional quality assurance, we were really very limited in the past, and so we really ramped up the quality assurance staff,” said William Ingram, the Chief of Operations and Maintenance on Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.
“We have a common goal - to take care of our soldiers and families at the corporate level, but ultimately, that responsibility falls on the army to make sure that that is happening,” said Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Colonel Jason Wolter.
Work order follow ups are another big change. The military’s housing office also now follows up on 100 percent of life, health, and safety issues, like a broken AC unit or mold. They follow up on five percent of all other work orders to make sure Balfour Beatty employees are doing things correctly.
“I have taken people from other parts of this organization to help focus on that. I will tell you, that’s really to make sure our partner is doing what they’re doing, what they’re supposed to be doing,” Colonel Wolter said.
Perhaps the biggest change on the way is a bill of rights for military members living in housing at a base or installation. For the first time, it would give them the ability to hold the landlord accountable when there are issues in their homes.
“It’ll be issued to everybody, so you get a chance to see it in black and white - these are my rights, and if I’m not satisfied with what I’m getting from our partner, the U.S. Army, we as leaders have a responsibility to make sure they’re getting everything they need,” Col. Wolter said.
Balfour Beatty signed a 50-year contract to manage living quarters on Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. A big part of the future will be building new homes and apartments. These apartments are just some of the old ones set to be demolished.
“We are a long way from being done. It will not change. Those resources aren’t going away. This attention and this focus in the long haul are not going away,” Col. Wolter said. “Everyone wants this to succeed. The sole focus of this program being taking care of our soldiers and families.”
Col. Wolter said he can offer incentives to Balfour Beatty for improvements, but perhaps more importantly, he can penalize them for not doing what they’re supposed to do. Leaders for Balfour Beatty now meet with the colonel weekly. That used to happen monthly.
Balfour Beatty also acknowledged problems with housing. A company spokesperson says they’re adding more levels of oversight to improve the condition of homes. In a statement - the company said: “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.”
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