July 08, 2019

Provisions from Warren-Haaland Bill to Address Unsafe Military Housing Advance in the Senate

Provisions Would Impose Greater Transparency and Accountability for Private Military Housing Contractors

Washington, DC - The United States Senate advanced a number of provisions from the Military Housing Oversight and Service Member Protection Act, a comprehensive bill that Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the Military Personnel Subcommittee, and Representative Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced to address disturbing reports of unsafe and unsanitary conditions in privatized, on-base housing for military personnel and their families.   
“It is unacceptable that thousands of our servicemembers and their families have been forced to live in housing with mice, mold, and lead paint—while the private companies that maintain them line their pockets with profits,” said Senator Warren. “While this bill is an important first step to addressing this problem, I’ll continue fighting to increase oversight and transparency at DOD so that our military families get the high-quality housing they deserve.”
The bill's provisions, which passed the Senate as part of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), would:
  • Establish a public complaint database accessible by all tenants and require that housing providers address all such complaints.
  • Require the annual publication of financial details of each housing contract and that housing providers publish an annual financial statement in the Federal Register.
  • Allow residents to submit a request to withhold rent payments if the landlord has not met established maintenance guidelines or procedures, or if the housing unit is uninhabitable according to State and local law.
    • Instruct the Department of Defense (DOD) to publish an annual report on all privatized housing units that includes all requests by tenants to withhold their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) due to poor housing conditions that were denied.
    • Establish guidelines for the installation housing management office to conduct an investigation, when needed, within 15 days. If the installation commander consents to the withholding of BAH, this provision further requires landlords to immediately remediate the identified issues. For each five-day period that the issues are not remediated, the landlord will lose the ability to recoup 10% of the funds withheld.
  • Require the Defense Secretary to consider any history of a landlord providing substandard housing when determining whether to enter into or renew a contract with a private housing provider.
  • Require the Defense Secretary to withhold funds from the private housing provider if the provider is found to be in material breach of the contract and doesn’t correct it within 90 days, and prevent those providers from entering into new contracts.
The Military Housing Oversight and Service Member Protection Act was introduced in April 2019 by Senator Warren and Representative Haaland following a series of investigative reports by Reuters revealing that servicemembers and their families who live in on-base housing owned by private housing developers have been exposed to lead paint, vermin infestations, fecal and urine trails, bursting pipes, flooding, mold growth, collapsed ceilings, electric and fire hazards, and other substandard living conditions as a result of inadequate maintenance by housing companies.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on this issue in February 2019, Senator Warren demanded information on profits and incentive payments from private companies providing substandard housing to military families and questioned DOD officials about the lack of oversight of privatized military housing. She also opened an investigation into the matter, which revealed a series of problems and failures in the basic structure of the privatized military housing program and in the administration and oversight of this program by the private housing companies and the DOD. Most recently, she also sent letters to Balfour Beatty Communities, a private military housing developer, and Assistant Secretary of the Air Force John W. Henderson, requesting information about reports that Balfour has submitted falsified maintenance records to the Air Force in order to receive millions in performance incentive fees – while the Air Force failed to conduct its oversight responsibilities and while military families were living in the company’s unsafe and unsanitary housing. The Senator also wrote separately to Inspector General (IG) of the Air Force Lt. General Sami D. Said urging him to investigate the allegations.
After hearing about unsafe housing conditions from Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) families, Congresswoman Haaland demanded answers during a House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness hearing. The hearing covered the mismanagement of housing programs for military families.
Senate co-sponsors of the Military Housing Oversight and Service Member Protection Act include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Gary Peters (D-Mich).