July 10, 2024

Warren, Jacobs, Lawmakers Raise Alarms about Military Housing Conditions, Failures to Hold Private Housing Companies Accountable

“Federal Enclave Doctrine” Shields Private Housing Providers: 

“Military families should not lose their right to a safe, healthy home, or the ability to seek redress, simply because they live on-base.” 

Text of Letter (PDF) 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Representative Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, led Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), and Representative James Moylan (R-Guam) in calling out the Department of Defense (DoD) for failing to protect military families living in military housing operated by private companies under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI). 

A recent investigation by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) revealed that many military families living in private housing, both on and off-base, are forced to live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, including toxic mold, with little-to-no recourse to hold companies accountable. DoD has trapped itself in contracts with private companies containing “provisions that make them nearly impossible to terminate and that allow companies to evade some environmental, tenant rights, and consumer protection laws.” 

Families seeking redress are also limited by the “federal enclave doctrine.” When military families attempt to take the private companies that provide on-base housing to court, this doctrine has stripped them of the rights afforded to their neighbors who lived off-post. Under the doctrine, tenant protections that are adopted after the military bases were transferred to the federal government do not apply to individuals who live on the now federal land, creating a shield for corporate landlords that fail to maintain safe and healthy living conditions for military families. 

In a recent case, families in Virginia saw their claims dismissed under the federal enclave doctrine and were forced to move out of their homes and stay in temporary housing while continuing to pay full rent for their poor-quality housing. After the court dismissed the claims, these service members were left with no remedy and no mechanism to seek relief. 

“The stress and uncertainty that military families face with the multiple moves and transitions between locations and assignments that the military requires is amplified and worsened by systemic housing problems,” wrote the lawmakers

The lawmakers are urging DoD to take action and provide information about how DoD enters into housing agreements, whether hazardous conditions violate existing agreements, and how DoD conducts oversight on the private housing companies by July 30, 2024. 

Senator Warren has been a leader in raising concerns about problems with privatized military housing and pushing the Defense Department to protect military families: 

  • In October 2023, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin raising concerns that Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) families had to pay out of pocket to modify their homes to meet their families’ medical needs and asking for additional information about DoD’s oversight of the program.
  • In November 2022, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, calling on him to use all tools and authorities at his disposal to protect military families from private housing contractors that are not providing protections guaranteed by the service members Tenant Bill of Rights. 
  • In August 2022, Senator Warren sent a letter to the Department of Justice exposing the federal government’s failure to suspend or disbar Balfour Betty from future government contracts after it defrauded the U.S. Government of millions of dollars.  
  • In December 2020, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) sent letters to top executives at six major private military housing companies requesting information about the on-base housing units they developed and manage, to determine whether military families are being denied access to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant housing. 
  • In May 2019, Senator Elizabeth Warren led an investigation into companies that provide housing for military families, which revealed serious hazards, including toxic mold, lead-based paint, water damage, and infestations.
  • In April 2019, Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the Military Housing Oversight and Service Member Protection Act to increase oversight and accountability for service members and their families living in military housing both on and off base military installations.  
  • In February 2019, Senator Elizabeth 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.