As part of his ongoing fight for military families facing hazardous living conditions, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today urged the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish a temporary housing advisory group to assist the military services in addressing widespread health hazards in private military housing. In a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, Warner emphasized the need for an independent group capable of providing neutral analysis and advice to the department in order to develop long-term solutions for servicemembers and military families.
“As the military services determine the best path forward, multiple perspectives and deep expertise in housing, state and local housing regulations, and environmental hazards are necessary to determine next steps and make stronger agreements. Clearly, these areas are not the core expertise of the Pentagon leadership, nor are they part of a military leader’s career trajectory. Housing is not a core mission of the Department of Defense,” wrote Sen. Warner.“Therefore, I urge you to establish a temporary advisory group for the Department of Defense – a high-level group of independent experts, well-versed in these issues who can assist the department in this process.”
Stressing the need to reopen and renegotiate 50-year agreements between the services and the military housing companies, Sen. Warner urged Acting Secretary Shanahan to convene a housing advisory group composed of 10-15 subject-matter experts tasked with analyzing the current Military Housing Privatization Initiative as well as the agreements between the private companies and military services. This group would provide recommendations related to housing, real estate, public health, and environmental hazards in order to ensure that military families do not continue to be subjected to health threats, including persistent mold blooms, water leaks, and rodent and insect infestations.
The letter also states that, once established, the advisory group should ensure that any agreements between the services and private companies codify the following:
• Ensure that independent and credentialed housing inspectors provide regular inspections and oversight at the housing units to ensure safe, secure and high-quality housing;
• Ensure that companies are adhering to state, local and regulatory laws related to environmental hazards. If these standards have not been determined by these authorities, DoD should establish standards in coordination with the EPA, and require that these companies adhere to standards for these hazards, including mold;
• Require these companies to utilize appropriately credentialed and/or skilled contractors for health, safety and environmental problems across the services;
• Ensure that tenants have direct access to a true housing advocate, who assists the servicemembers and their families;
• Ensure there exists an independent, third-party arbiter who can assist in resolving disputes between the tenants and the companies in a fair and transparent manner; and
• Determine penalties when these companies fail to provide safe and healthy housing, whether that be withholding rent payments, incentive fees, cancelling the contracts or alternative mechanisms.
This letter is the latest in a series of efforts by Warner to ensure that military families in Virginia and throughout the nation can count on high-quality housing free of health, safety, and environmental hazards. On Monday, Warner wrote to four private military housing companies requesting a plan of action from each company on how they intend to tackle the deplorable health hazards documented by military families. Recently, Warner hosted roundtables in Norfolk, Fort Lee, and Fort Belvoir with affected families who were upset by conditions in their homes and frustrated about the lack of response from the military services and their respective housing companies.
Earlier this year, Warner introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act – legislation that would create stronger oversight mechanisms over private military housing, allow the military to withhold rent until issues are resolved, prohibit contractors from charging certain fees, and require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.