Warner, Kaine, Feinstein request DoD update on military housing reforms

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U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have requested an update from the Department of Defense on the implementation of reforms to the Military Housing Privatization Initiative.

The MHPI were secured by the senators in the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in response to pervasive and appalling health, safety and environmental hazards in private military housing.

“From the inception of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative in 1996, the Department of Defense and frankly, Congress, placed far too much trust in the private companies implementing the program. The agreements made, including 50-year leases between these companies and the military services, stacked the deck against servicemembers and their families,” wrote the senators. “The companies frequently failed to properly address hazards and to meet their fundamental obligations to servicemembers and their families to provide safe, healthy and high-quality housing. The Department of Defense also did not conduct sufficient oversight of the housing within their purview, and dismissed legitimate and pervasive concerns of servicemembers and their family members regarding their housing.”

They continued, “For this reason, we introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act (S.703) to begin reforming the privatized housing program, ensuring that our servicemembers have safe, healthy and high-quality housing. The FY20 NDAA included many provisions from this bill and put into place comprehensive reforms to right the program’s wrongs. Now the Department of Defense, with oversight by Congress, must see these reforms through.”

The Department of Defense released a Tenant Bill of Rights on February 25, 2020, as required by the NDAA FY20 and committed to making 15 of the 18 required rights available to military servicemembers and their families by May 1, 2020.

According to DoD however, additional work remained in order to negotiate and implement the three remaining rights: a process for dispute resolution, a mechanism for the withholding of Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) payments when disputes arise between the companies and the tenants, and a means by which to make a housing unit’s maintenance history accessible to tenants.

On June 1st – one month after its timeline – DoD indicated that only 14 of the 18 rights had been implemented. According to DoD, the three original unresolved rights remained outstanding, in addition to a fourth – the use of uniform forms and documents, including a standard lease across MHPI projects.

In their letter to Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, Sens. Warner, Kaine, and Feinstein specifically asked for an update on the four tenants’ rights that have yet to be implemented – the withholding of the BAH, a dispute resolution mechanism, work history records and a standard lease. They also requested information on the progress of other NDAA provisions intended to further reform the privatized military housing program.

Particularly, they inquired about the status of the following NDAA requirements, pulled from the Senators’ Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act:

  • The establishment of a standard for minimum credentials for health and environmental inspectors of privatized military housing;
  • The approval of mold mitigation and pest control plans by installation commanders.
  • The withholding of incentives fees if landlords have not met established guidelines and procedures, and whether this authority has been invoked since the FY20 NDAA’s passage.
  • Landlords payments for reasonable relocation costs in the event of health, safety or environmental hazards.
  • The prohibition on landlords imposing supplemental payments, in addition to rent, on tenants.

 


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