After concerns about some privatized military family housing units were raised in several congressional hearings this year, Defense Department and service leaders promised lawmakers and military families that they'd take steps to improve the quality of housing and provide long-term investments to sustain that quality.
Robert H. McMahon, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, along with other DOD officials and representatives from each military department met Aug. 15 for the third time since February, with senior executives of private-sector Military Housing Privatization Initiative partners involved in privatized housing.
McMahon opened the meeting by confirming a shared commitment between the DOD and the private-sector partners to ensure safe, high quality and affordable housing and communities where service members and their families will want — and choose — to live.
McMahon acknowledged a sense of urgency. "We've come a long way, but there's still miles to go," he said. "We're headed in the right direction. We can't lose this momentum, energy and enthusiasm."
DOD and the military departments are finalizing a Military Housing Privatization Initiative Resident Bill of Rights, a resident responsibilities document and a common lease framework, which should be ready for publication and implementation by October, McMahon said.
Also, he said, an element of improving communication and leadership engagement is the addition of a resident advocate to the oversight team across the portfolio. The military departments are considering these advocates to assist and support residents in navigating any concerns they might have. As another communication enhancement, DOD and the military departments also are meeting with representatives from veteran and military service organizations to keep them informed on improvement progress and seek input and feedback.
To enhance the work-order process and improve the information available for residents and program oversight, the private-sector partners are implementing an online work-order system across the portfolio. McMahon said this approach will enable the tracking and reporting on progress and satisfaction with work order completion for the residents as well as the military departments' oversight programs.
The DOD and Military Housing Privatization Initiative partner senior executives acknowledged the tremendous improvements to on-base housing as a result of the initiative. Over the course of the first 20 years of the program, $32 billion was invested in the housing, with more than 125,000 homes either built new or receiving a major renovation. The senior leaders also agreed that while the majority of residents remain satisfied with their current living conditions, the concerns raised by a minority of residents and reinforced by the media are valid and will remain a priority for the DOD and privatized partners.
Everyone should have a good housing experience, McMahon added. "We owe that to our men and women in uniform and their families who sacrifice so much," he said.
McMahon emphasized that DOD, military departments, and Military Housing Privatization Initiative partner senior executives have to continue to "be aligned on the same vision of the place where we want to be," which is a dramatically improved housing experience for residents.
"We're partners. We're teammates. We have to do this together," he told the senior executives. "We have to do the right thing."
McMahon promised more similar meetings in the future to ensure everyone is on track and making good progress.