Two senators are pressing privatized housing companies for extensive details on their treatment of military families with disabled members who need accessible housing.
Some private companies that have partnered with the Defense Department “do not appear to be following federal laws that protect persons with disabilities,” according to letters sent Dec. 18 to top executives of six companies, signed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
Citing the findings of a small online survey released in July by the nonprofit Military Housing Advocacy Network, the senators asked the executives for details about each of their military housing communities by Jan. 15.
The survey findings “painted a clear and troubling picture of housing problems for thousands of service members and their families, revealing that many military families are being denied access to Americans with Disabilities Act compliant housing,” the senators wrote.
They asked for the details “in order to better understand why [special needs] families are not receiving ADA-compliant homes or reasonable accommodations.”
By Jan. 15, each of the companies must provide answers to 18 different issues for each of their privatized military housing projects. The questions included: how many families enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program live on the installation and have requested ADA housing; whether a service member’s rank factors into whether the family gets ADA housing; and the number of complaints received regarding housing needs for families with disabilities.
The senators sent letters to executives at Balfour Beatty Communities, LLC; CBG Building Company; Corvias Property Management; Hunt Military Communities; Americas Lendlease Corporation; and Lincoln Property Company.
Each letter contains some specifics about survey’s findings related to that specific company. The senators noted, however, that the survey results may not reflect a representative sample. A small number of families, 107, responded, but advocates at MHAN said the complaints are frequently heard.
Of those who responded to the survey, 85 percent needed an ADA-accessible home. About 46 percent said they were outright denied accommodations.
Of those who did get an ADA-compliant home, half reported that they were missing accessibility features, such as proper flooring, ramps, grab bars and properly sized doorways and hallways. Many said the issues weren’t adequately fixed after a maintenance request was submitted. In addition, 20 percent of families reported they were charged by their landlord for these necessary accommodations.
The senators noted that denying or delaying ADA-compliant homes or reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities violates federal law.
In their letters to the companies, senators noted the long wait times for ADA home placement. As noted, not all the families who responded to the survey were successful in being placed into an ADA home:
- Balfour Beatty: average reported wait time was 167 days, based on 13 survey respondents.
- CBG Building Company: average reported wait time was 603 days, based on nine survey respondents.
- Corvias: average reported wait time was 555 days, based on seven survey respondents.
- Hunt: average reported wait time was 423 days, based on 18 survey respondents.
- Lendlease: average reported wait time was 60 days, based on seven survey respondents.
- Lincoln: average reported wait time was 281 days, based on 19 survey respondents.
The senators sent copies of their letters to DoD and service officials who oversee the privatized housing programs.
There are about 132,500 military family members enrolled in the services’ Exceptional Family Member programs, according to a 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office. In fiscal year 2016, 39,000 EFMP families made a permanent change of station move.
Various federal laws require housing providers to provide reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications for those with disabilities — that includes military housing. According to the United States Access Board, at least 5 percent of total housing on an installation must be either accessible or easily modifiable to be accessible. There must be at least one unit.
Philip Rizzo, the head of Lincoln Military Housing, provided a statement to Military Times.
“We share Senators Warren’s and Tillis’ passion for improving the quality of life for military families enrolled in the Department of Defense’s Exceptional Family Member Program,” said Rizzo, who is the company’s COO and CEO. “We look forward to understanding how LMH can continue to support the EFMP program and our military families.”
He said the company’s teams “receive training on and adhere to all state and federal laws pertaining to privatized military housing, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.”
Officials at Lendlease confirmed they had received the letter from the senators, in a statement to Military Times. “We look forward to demonstrating our ongoing commitment to all military families living in our communities. Our the course of long-standing relationships with our military service partners, we have, and will continue to, look for ways to further advance our support of military families,” officials stated.
Other companies contacted by Military Times had not immediately responded to requests for comment.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from additional housing companies.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.