National Security

Mold surfaces in Army housing and families fear ‘retaliation’ when they complain

Military families who reported poor living conditions on bases often felt they faced retaliation for doing so, an Army inspector general report released Thursday found.

The report is part of the military’s promise to improve living conditions on bases after media reports last year exposed problems at military-provided housing such as mold, ants and lead.

In their review, government inspectors interviewed families and officials at bases across the United States, including Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Fort Benning, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field in Georgia, and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The inspector general’s report does not break down individual base findings.

The inspector general found that housing inspections to ensure military families were not at risk did not include a review of “life, health or safety” items, such as mold or electrical issues.

“Residents at all locations believed the property management company placed the interests of the affiliate companies above life, health and safety,” the report said.

Military families are still going public with their housing problems, such as mold at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, where several families decided to move off base.

Previously, military families have felt like the private companies running their housing have retaliated against them after they came forward with complaints, the IG found. Families who filled out work orders for repairs or spoke out about a substandard condition, in some cases, found that immediately afterward they faced “additional move-out fees, fines due to yard maintenance and other discrepancies, and threats to call or involve the chain of command,” the report said.

The inspector general also found that when leadership on base tried to enforce a quality standard, it often was unaware of what authorities it had to oversee the housing, which is run and operated through a joint public-private venture that allows a privately-run corporations to serve as builder and property manager at the installations.

The venture, called the Residential Communities Initiative (RCI), is responsible for more than 98 percent of the Army’s housing, totaling more than 86,000 homes in the United States.

The inspection teams found “general confusion and frustration regarding authorities granted to installation personnel in managing oversight of the RCI program.”

The inspector general recommended that the Army establish a tenant bill of rights that would be included in future residential leases to better protect future military residents. The Army concurred with that recommendation.

Tara Copp is the national military and veterans affairs correspondent for McClatchy. She has reported extensively through the Middle East, Asia and Europe to cover defense policy and its impact on the lives of service members. She was previously the Pentagon bureau chief for Military Times and a senior defense analyst for the U.S. Government Accountability Office. She is the author of the award-winning book “The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story.”