Military families in private housing facing numerous safety hazards, survey finds

More than 50 percent of military families living on U.S. bases found their privately managed military housing dissatisfying, with issues including black mold, vermin infestations and lead paint, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The survey, commissioned by the nonpartisan armed services organization Military Family Advisory Network, collected responses from nearly 15,000 families across 46 states who currently or recently lived in privatized military housing.

It found that 56 percent of families had a “negative or very negative experience” in privately managed military housing, while 16 percent of respondents had a positive experience. 

“Military families are living in dangerous situations with reports of the existence of black mold, lead paint, faulty wiring, poor water quality, pesticides, and a wide variety of vermin, insects, and other animals (e.g., bats, skunks, and squirrels) in their homes,” the group stated in a summary of the survey findings.

“Families report illnesses with life-long implications caused by poor housing conditions,” and those that file reports and request remediation are “often denied or ignored,” it added.

The group conducted the survey following a 2018 Reuters investigation that set off numerous congressional inquiries.

The survey results contradict the findings of reports that the Defense Department has released over recent years, which have said that almost 90 percent of responding military families would recommend privatized military housing.

But those Pentagon reports rely on data collected by the private real estate firms that operate base housing. The companies’ compensation from the military is partially determined by the results of satisfaction surveys, according to Reuters.

“Through our preliminary research it has become apparent that there is a disconnect between our findings related to resident satisfaction and what has been reported by privatized housing companies,” the Military Family Advisory Network report states.

“Families report attempts by housing company representatives and sometimes, military command to silence their complaints and several report receiving threats. Many fear retribution or negative impacts on their service members’ military career.”

The survey was released hours before Senate Armed Services Committee hearings Wednesday focused on living conditions on U.S. bases. At one panel, lawmakers grilled top executives from the five main companies that operate 200,000 homes on bases.

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Gallego tapped as national campaign chairman for Swalwell presidential bid MORE (R-Ariz.), an Air Force veteran, called the results of the survey “disgusting” and said it demonstrated “systemic issues.”

“This is multiple layers of failure,” McSally said. “I hope all of you can look these service members and their families in the eye and tell them that you’re sorry, but then do the right thing starting now. I hope you feel embarrassed.”

About 99 percent of on-base housing has been privatized since 1996, when the Military Housing Privatization Initiative was created to address an array of issues with houses in disrepair on bases.

The initiative allowed private contractors to front reconstruction costs in exchange for 50-year leases from the services.

But families have been unsatisfied with how the homes are being kept up by the major companies, including Lincoln Military Housing, Balfour Beatty, Hunt Military Communities, Corvias Military Living, Winn Companies and Michael’s Military Housing / Michael’s Management.

In one panel, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard tearful testimony from three women whose families were affected by poor housing conditions.

“I would never recommend anyone to live in base housing,” said Jana Driver, whose family is stationed at Tinker Air Force base in Oklahoma and were exposed to black mold for months. “I enjoyed my time living on base until I discovered that our home was making us very sick.”

Driver testified that Balfour Beatty Communities, which manages the home her family lived in on base, “are covering up, painting over mold, threatening military members with their command, using scare tactics and intimidation, lying to us and making the problems worse.”

About 700,000 people live in privatized U.S. military housing. Rent is covered by DOD housing stipends, whether families choose to live base or in civilian communities. But many families have trouble finding off base housing that they can afford and is near the installation.

“Our results show a systemic problem that does not discriminate among location, rank, or branch of service,” the report released Wednesday stated.