U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced, following their major push, that more than thirty provisions to improve the military’s privatized housing at installations like West Point and Fort Drum have been included in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020, which is expected to pass Congress and be signed into law early next week. This September, following Schumer’s June visit to West Point to call on military housing improvements, the Army released its Inspector General Report on the shortcomings of privatized military housing and included a list of 20 recommendations to improve it. The NDAA codifies many of these critical recommendations, including the development of a “Tenant Bill of Rights”, the establishment of a dispute resolution process for tenants, and boosted Department of Defense (DOD) oversight policies. The complete set of privatized military housing provisions in the bill can be found in Title XXX, here. Schumer previously visited West Point this June to initiate a multi-tiered plan to increase the quality of privatized military housing. In February, Gillibrand led a joint Armed Services Personnel and Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee hearing uncovering the conditions of privatized housing for military families, and was able to work in committee to include many provisions to improve these conditions in the Senate NDAA.
“At West Point, Fort Drum and other military installations across the nation, privatized housing for our service members and their families is very clearly not up to snuff. These heroes and their families deserve the best standard of living possible, but are left to deal with hazards like black mold and other health threats and nuisances,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I fought tooth and nail to include numerous military housing provisions and oversight policies in the final NDAA, from a tenants’ bill of rights to funding for Department of Defense housing staff, which is set to pass Congress next week. This bill is a major step forward in ensuring our nation’s finest have access to the finest housing available.”
“The companies that provide housing for our service members didn’t land another real estate deal – they have assumed responsibility for the safety, health, and wellbeing of military families who make incredible sacrifices each and every day in support of our national defense,” said Senator Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “Disgracefully, we have learned that there are far too many housing units that do not pass basic standards of living for these families. This is unacceptable, which is why I worked to include provisions in the Senate NDAA that set clear guidelines for the conditions of families living in privatized housing, and I’m pleased they have been included in the final NDAA.”
Earlier this July, the U.S. Air Force announced it would be withholding incentive payments to one of its most prominent privatized housing partners, Balfour Beatty Communities – the very same operator that manages housing at West Point. News reports indicate that Balfour Beatty Communities employees falsified maintenance records, to show that the expeditiously responded to and addressed maintenance requests at a base in Oklahoma. These documents allowed the company to meet certain maintenance goals and earn a greater financial windfall from the DOD, when in reality, employees were ignoring many of these requests and taking long periods of time to respond to the others.
To address these types of issues, Schumer and Gillibrand said, the bill authorizes additional funding for DoD housing personnel. This funding would be used to hire more staff that would then conduct thorough inspections, oversight and planning of the military’s privatized housing stock. Additionally, the NDAA includes a privatized military housing tenant bill of rights. The tenant bill of rights would mandate a sorely-needed formal dispute resolution process for families to receive help in addressing hazards they may have in their homes. The NDAA would also establish measures that implement new quality assurance and quality control measures, including additional mandatory health and hazard inspections. One such oversight policy, is that the NDAA requires DOD to withhold incentive fees for any landlord that fails to improve health or environmental shortcomings in military housing, ensuring that contractors are held accountable for their neglect.
Schumer has long fought to clean up and improve privatized military housing at installations like West Point. This June, Schumer launched a push to include numerous provisions to improve military housing in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA), including a tenant bill of rights, a formal dispute resolution process for tenants and boosted DoD oversight policies. The next month, Schumer announced his efforts had been successful, with the final Senate NDAA including all of the military housing provisions he was pushing for. Then, this August, Schumer launched a new three-pronged plan to address insufficient military housing, including calling on the Army to publicly back the Senate version of the NDAA, urging the expedited release of an Army Inspector General Report on privatized military housing conditions and requesting the Army brief Congress as quickly as possible on its plan to address the allegations of fraudulent business practices in the military’s privatized military housing. This September, Schumer announced that the Army had heeded his request and expedited the release of its Inspector General Report.
Senator Gillibrand fought to include provisions that improved conditions in privatized housing for military families in her letter to leadership on the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
A copy of Schumer’s August 1 letter to the Army appears below.
Dear Acting Secretary McCarthy:
I write to request that you take immediate action in response to the ongoing housing crisis, which currently impacts hundreds of New York military families throughout the state. I am confident that ensuring the safety and health of service members and their families remains your top priority, and I strongly urge you to take steps to rebuild trust within our communities.
First, I request that you publicly support the provisions in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that directly address the ongoing military housing crisis. Both the Senate and House of Representatives have put forth numerous proposals that would strengthen oversight and accountability of privatized housing partners, including a tenant bill of rights and a dispute resolution process. Furthermore, the bill would authorize additional funding for the Army to hire new housing staff across all of its installations. Despite the urgent need for these reforms, the Department of Defense has appealed and opposed the vast majority of Congressional proposals. Nonetheless, I hope that the Army will voice its strong support for these provisions as the NDAA advances through the legislative process.
Second, I request that you expedite the release of the Army Inspector General report on privatized housing so that Congress can properly and effectively conduct its oversight responsibilities. I have been made aware that the Inspector General has completed its investigation, but that the report still requires your approval before its release. Furthermore, it has come to my attention that the Army plans to publish this report “For Official Use Only” (FOUO), which means that it will not be releasable to the public. I urge you to reassess the Army’s position on this matter and, if appropriate, submit the Army IG report in a publicly-releasable format. Military families have a right to know the extent of the problems they are facing in their own homes and communities.
Finally, I request that you provide a briefing to Congress on the Army’s plan to address allegations of fraudulent practices in the military housing program, which have recently emerged indicating that privatized housing partners may have falsified work orders for financial gain. This practice is unacceptable and must be thoroughly investigated. I urge you to look into this issue across all 34 Army privatized housing projects and take appropriate actions, including the suspension of paying incentive fees to privatized housing partners, if deemed necessary.
Our service members deployed abroad deserve to know that their families are safe at home. I encourage you act swiftly to address these problems with the Army housing program before they get worse.
Thank you for your consideration of my requests. I look forward to your timely response.
The text of Gillibrand’s letter on military housing to Senate Committee on Armed Services leadership appears below.
The Honorable James Inhofe
Senate Committee on Armed Services
228 Russell Senate Office Building
The Honorable Jack Reed
Senate Committee on Armed Services
228 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Mr. Chairman and Mr. Ranking Member:
As the Committee prepares for consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA), I am writing to respectfully request support for my priorities in the NDAA.
Military Housing Privatization Initiative
Recently, investigative journalism and brave military family members have exposed unacceptable conditions in privatized military housing units. These problems span across the military services and touch installations nationwide. In New York, a recent inspection at West Point found visible mold in 9 of 16 homes visited, and potential for water-intrusion issues in 14 of 16 homes visited. The recent testimony before the Personnel and Readiness Subcommittees and the Full Committee on the Military Housing Privatization Initiative have yielded heartbreaking testimony from military family members and exposed incompetence, negligence, and mismanagement in the Department’s oversight of the program. For many of the families I have heard from, servicemembers, spouses, and their children are dealing with long-term health challenges from exposure to mold, pest infestation, contaminated drinking water, lead paint, and other health hazards.
I am grateful to the Committee’s leadership and staff in pledging to address the structural failures of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative during this NDAA cycle. In doing so, I believe we must: increase oversight of the program and reevaluate the terms and length of contacts with privatized housing providers, support the creation of a tenants’ bill of rights for military families, evaluate and fully address any health impacts to military personnel and their families, and any other relevant fixes identified by the Committee. Additionally, I request a provision to codify the positions of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment in the military services. As Ranking Member of the Personnel Subcommittee, I see the problems in privatized housing as a detriment to recruiting and retention – and we owe it to our brave servicemembers and their families to implement immediate and lasting fixes.