Fearing that they’re losing the trust of sailors and their families living in base housing, Navy leaders on Saturday ordered subordinates to quickly contact their personnel and start fixing problems ranging from life-threatening mold infestation to wastewater leaks and crumbling structures.
Both CNO and MCPON acknowledged that the military’s oversight of privatized partnership arrangements grew “too passive, leaving the day-to-day operation of the housing program to the residents and the private partners.”
Investigative reporting by Reuters has revealed atrocious conditions for military families nationwide, including pervasive lead poisoning risks for children and houses bepopulated by mice and mold spores.
In a Feb. 7 hearing on Quality of Life issues in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, Smith told lawmakers the Navy wasn’t seeing “the same sort of systemic issues and complaints" that were plaguing the other services.
Smith (SW/IW/AW) pointed to a survey that found 84 percent of Navy tenants were satisfied with their housing, but conceded that 16 percent “aren’t happy and aren’t satisfied.”
Smith told lawmakers that funding adequate military housing is as much a readiness issue as improving fleet readiness.
The Navy’s civilian overseers also have taken a keen interest in military housing.
Two days after a Feb. 13 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Joint Subcommittee on Personnel and Readiness and Management Support on privatized military housing, Phyllis L. Bayer — assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and the environment — launched a tour of the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune to check out for herself housing at a North Carolina base rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
In their Saturday directive, Richardson and Smith ordered division officers and chiefs to “personally observe any issues affecting the home” and identify the actions necessary to bring them up to proper living standards.
“If a problem is found,” the message says, the command must become a tireless “advocate” by helping “your sailor and their family get the problem resolved.”
Visits will remain “purely voluntary,” however, and “no negative ramifications” will follow if either sailors or their family members refuse the courtesy call, they wrote.
Calling the trust and confidence held by sailors and Marines “the bedrock upon which effective commands rests,” Smith and Richardson warned that if personnel remained “disconnected or distracted, the entire team suffers.”
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.