Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) today introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, a bill to address health, safety and environmental hazards in private contractor-provided military housing.
The legislation is in response to a recent Reuters investigation that found hazardous living conditions in privatized military housing throughout the United States, including service members and their families living in homes with persistent mold blooms, water leaks and rodent and insect infestations.
“Service members shouldn’t have to worry about the health and safety of their families while protecting our country,” said Senator Feinstein. “Unfortunately, many living in private military housing are dealing with hazardous conditions with little or no recourse. Our legislation would fix that. It would withhold rent from contractors until hazards are properly fixed under the terms of their contract, require military officials to ensure all private housing is up to code and empower service members to leave any home that is unsafe without fear of financial penalty.”
“Military families deserve first-rate housing, but I have heard from many servicemembers stationed in Virginia that companies providing private housing consistently fail to resolve health and safety problems in a timely fashion,” said Senator Warner. “That’s unacceptable. Our legislation will give military officials and families more power to hold these companies accountable and make sure that they don’t get paid if they fail to fulfill their basic obligations.”
“The military must act quickly to address these dangerous housing conditions, and Congress should pass legislation to protect military families from ever having to go through this again,” said Senator Kaine. “Our bill would help improve military oversight and increase accountability. This is about making sure service members can feel safe in their own homes, and I’ll be pushing for legislation like this to be included in this year’s national defense bill.”
“Our nation’s service members and their families make daily sacrifices to protect the nation, and they deserve fair treatment and comfortable living conditions back at home,” said Senator Harris. “I was extraordinarily troubled by reports last year of inadequate housing conditions at Camp Pendleton and visited with families living there in order to learn more about their housing needs. This legislation is an important step forward ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to provide quality housing for our service members and their families across the country.”
The Reuters investigation and military advocacy groups report that the companies that operate military housing are often non-responsive, provide only superficial fixes or blame the service member for the problems. In some instances, service members have been charged fees associated with the remediation of their own homes, including fees for leaving homes with persistent hazards. A recent survey conducted by the Military Family Advisory Network showed that more than 55 percent of respondents had a negative or very negative experience with privatized military housing.
The legislation would create stronger oversight mechanisms, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors until issues are resolved and prohibit contractors from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees from poorly performing contractors.
Provisions of the bill include:
- Basic allowance for housing: The installation commander shall withhold payment of a service member’s housing allowance until a military housing official has inspected an environmental, safety or health hazard, verified that appropriate remediation has taken place, and the service member concurs that the remediation is satisfactory. In the case that the hazard requires the service member to leave the housing unit, the housing company will pay all relocation costs.
- Housing costs: Prohibits payment of a deposit, and any fee or penalty related to ending a lease early, except for normal wear and tear. The bill also requires contractors to reimburse service members for damage to their private property caused by a hazard.
- Withholding incentive fees: Requires the Secretary of Defense to withhold incentive fees to any contractor who persistently fails to remedy hazards.
- Common credentials: Creates standard credentials for health, safety and environmental inspectors across services, and including contractors, to ensure consistent inspection practices.
- Additional transparency for service members: Requires the Defense Department to establish an electronic system so that service members can track and oversee their work orders.
The bill is supported by the Military Officers Association of America and National Military Family Association.