In an effort to find out how its personnel with dependents feel about their housing, the Marine Corps recently launched an effort to visit homes and assess the conditions. But family advocates are questioning why more information isn’t being provided about Marines’ conditions in privatized housing specifically.
Officials can’t provide information about how many of those Marines who requested visits were living in privatized housing. Their outreach effort included Marines living off base as well as in privatized housing -- and Marine reservists. And since about 70 percent of active duty Marines live off base, and virtually all Marine reservists live off base, these numbers can’t be attributed solely to privatized housing landlords. Marine Corps leaders were able to reach 99 percent of Marines with families in their effort to find out more about the scope of housing problems.
But issues raised in recent months by military families and in media reports have centered around privatized housing companies that operate most military housing now. Families have testified about mold, lead paint, termites, mice and other issues, and their frustrations with trying to get their privatized housing company to fix their problems. They’ve also said they’ve gotten no help from the military when they asked for intervention.
So over the last two months, defense and service officials have taken steps to determine the scope of the problem, get families’ health and safety housing problems addressed quickly, and strengthen the military’s oversight over the privatized housing companies in the long term.
The Navy and the Marine Corps have been contacting every sailor and Marine to give them the opportunity to request a home visit to raise the awareness of the services about their conditions. The Marine Corps commandant went a step further, requiring commands to also contact Marines living in off-base civilian housing.
But information about whether the requests for home visits came from Marines on base, or off base wasn’t reported to Marine officials, said Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joe Butterfield.
“The same level of attention and support was provided to those who had concerns about their housing off base as those who in [privatized] housing,” he said.
Marine Corps commands have reached more than 99 percent of Marines and other service members assigned to Marine units, to offer home visits to see their housing conditions. Of those more than 91,000 who were contacted, nearly 7,000 Marines, or 7.6 percent, requested home visits by their command, and nearly 7,800, or 8.5 percent, requested phone calls to explain the process for resolving their concerns. The remaining 76,000-plus service members, or 84 percent, declined a visit or phone call.
Families report black mold, lead paint, faulty wiring, poor water quality and a wide variety of wildlife in their homes.
Military family advocates said the Marine Corps needs more specific data about problems in the privatized housing.
“We applaud the Marine Corps for reaching out to all families to assist them with problems they’re having with their housing, said Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association.
Those numbers, however, aren’t helpful, she said, because "we can’t distinguish between active duty and reservists, and between who’s living in privatized housing and who’s living off base. We hope that when the Marine Corps conducts its survey, they will ask these questions.”
The Marine Corps is in the process of scheduling an out-of-cycle third-party survey to further identify housing issues, Butterfield said. No date has yet been set for that survey, he said.
Commands don’t have the same leverage with off-base civilian landlords as they do with privatized housing company partners. But for those living off base, commands can provide some help, Butterfield said, such as legal assistance in resolving complaints and disputes.
“What we can do is act as advocates,” he said.
A big part of this extensive, time-consuming effort of personally contacting Marines was to raise awareness about their service members’ living conditions, to identify maintenance or safety issues affecting residences, and to make sure Marines and families are aware of what the Marine Corps can do to support them in dealing with their housing issues, Butterfield said.
He said the trends identified were consistent with the issues identified earlier this year. Maintenance concerns were not being addressed in a timely manner; neither privatized housing companies nor the Marine Corps were communicating with residents effectively enough; residents were not aware of the existing processes for resolving issues; and residents were dissatisfied with the housing assignment and acceptance process.
The dissatisfaction with the housing assignment and acceptance process included issues with units not being cleaned prior to the move-in date, appliances that weren’t working, or other repairs that weren’t done before move-in, Butterfield said.
Did you get your Army privatized housing survey?
Army officials emailed an online survey link April 23 to more than 80,000 residents of privatized family and unaccompanied housing at 49 locations in the U.S. Residents should complete the 10-minute online survey by May 24.
Residents of privatized housing who haven’t received the email with the survey link should contact their local military housing offices.
Residents can rate their satisfaction with services, property and the overall housing experience.
“We are committed to improving your housing experience,” said Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, assistant chief of staff for installation management, in an announcement about the survey.
“Feedback concerning your experience is very important to us.”
CEL & Associates is the company conducting the survey. They’re also conducting a survey for the Navy. Sailors living in privatized family housing or privatized unaccompanied housing are being surveyed through April 30; sailors in government-owned family housing, through June 6; and for sailors living in unaccompanied housing operated by the government, through June 20.