Top Pentagon officials apologize for appalling conditions in military housing

Matt Saintsing
March 07, 2019 - 1:41 pm
Top Pentagon leaders say they'll fix unacceptable conditions on military bases

Photo by Kevin Larson

50 years.

That’s how long Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfien said he’s been living in military housing. 

“I grew up in it, I raised my children in it, when I deployed for two years I put my family in it,” he told a panel of incensed Senators on Thursday grilling the service chiefs and secretaries about the issue of appalling living conditions on military installations nationwide. 

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein says he's lived in military housing for 50 years.
U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark

He went on to list issues that military families today must confront head on that he never had: the health or safety of his children as a consequence of living in a home, or the retribution if he ever complained about his living conditions. 

“As we look through the long term fixes, we have to get at those issues,” said Goldfein. 

Both the civilian and uniformed leaders of each military service told lawmakers — and military families — that the era of unacceptable living conditions will soon end. 

“I want to start by first apologizing personally on behalf of the Department of the Navy to any sailor, Marine, soldier, airman, Coast Guardsman that was affected by the housing malady that we've seen before us,” said Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. 

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer apologizes for housing conditions.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Q.Hamilton

Despite years of complaints, the military’s top brass all said they were unaware of just how systemic the problem of privatized military housing was until a recent Congressional hearing blew concerns wide open.   

In response to a question from Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) about the “viability” of private housing for service members, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that housing has improved dramatically since the 1990s. 

“While we are having problems with some of our private contractors, I think, overall, housing is in better shape now than it was at the time (privatized military housing) was started,” said Wilson. 

“That doesn’t mean that we change our approach demanding that when there’s a problem, it is promptly fixed.” 

Several Senators referenced truly deplorable conditions their offices have encountered. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke about a Navy family who had squirrels living in their attic via a hole in their roof, which quickly turned into carcasses with maggots dropping from their ceiling and onto a bed. 

“Over the last two and a half years, workers from the housing company visited this same home 52 times for instances of water intrusion and inadequate follow-on work orders,” said Reed. 

“I guarantee no one in this room would ever put up with such substandard living conditions.” 

Part of the solution, according to the service’s civilian leaders, is to implement a Tenant Bill of Rights to promise military families they have a way to right the wrongs they’ve been subjected to. 

RELATED: Congress probes ‘disgusting’ living conditions in military housing

The Army was the first service to meet with top executives of seven private housing companies that help manage the tens of thousands of units on more than 40 Army installations. Since then, all of the services have committed to help draft the agreement. 

RELATED: Military pushes Congress for legislation protecting families in on-base housing

A full draft is expected in the next following weeks. 

Army Secretary Mark Esper said that companies must be held responsible.

RELATED: The poor conditions of privately managed military housing are affecting military readiness

 RELATED: Senators to DoD: Fix your dirty, nasty housing

“I’ve walked through some homes where I don’t know whether it is simple, pure incompetence or some type of fraudulence or negligence,” said Esper. 

“Our immediate challenge is fixing the problems before us with regard to work orders, but I do think they need to look at the accountability aspects of this.” 

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