Service chiefs grilled as military promises action on substandard housing

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WASHINGTON — In the face of mounting criticism from lawmakers and families regarding the quality of military housing, all four US military services are preparing to release a joint “Tenant Bill of Rights” as a first step towards increasing the quality of service members homes.

A draft version of that document was submitted Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing in which service chiefs from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps acknowledged widespread problems with how military housing is handled and pledged to address a range of reported issues.

Those issues were highlighted during a Senate hearing last month during which the committee heard testimony from military family members who detailed the poor condition of some privatized housing units on bases across the country, including some plagued by mold, lead paint and rats.

“From both home inspections and sensing sessions conducted with current on-base residents, the systemic issues outlined at the recent SASC hearing are not only substantiated, but we believe the problems may be much worse,” chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe said during his opening statement Thursday.

“I have asked the chain of command from each service here today because the health, safety and welfare of our service members are the responsibility of everyone, from the Secretary to the squad leader. Plain and simple,” he added.

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, echoed the chairman’s call for action.

“In the three weeks since our last hearing on military privatized housing, it has become clear that there are systemic failures on the part of both the private housing companies and DOD. While the horrific conditions vary by installation – ranging from lead-based paint, mold and rodents – the underlying causes and fundamental breakdowns are unfortunately all too common across the country,” Reed said.

“All of us — the services, the housing companies, and Congress, have let down the men and women who selflessly serve this country. We need to do better,” he added.

But despite acknowledging that upgrades and repairs to privatized military housing must be a priority, both Inhofe and Reed agreed that they must be made with the funding that has already been provided.

“By no means will we bail these contractors out,” Inhofe said.

The Pentagon has promised not to tap into military housing funds as it seeks to repurpose Department of Defense money for a potential border wall and all three service secretaries said Thursday they are confident the administration will honor that pledge, though they acknowledged that the final decision is not theirs to make.

Prior to Thursday’s hearing, the four military services said they are preparing to release the joint “Tenant Bill of Rights in an effort to ensure service members and their families have safe, quality homes and communities, and clear rights while living in them,” according to statements issued by the US Army and the US Air Force.

The senior civilian and uniformed leaders of the services have testified on the issue on Capitol Hill and have met with families and companies involved in order to address the wide array of criticisms about substandard housing.

However, it still remains unclear exactly how the services plan to hold private housing contractors accountable for issues related to poor construction or potential negligence.

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