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Mold surfaces in JBLM housing and families fear ‘retaliation’ when they complain, IG says

Tatiana Robles and her son Anton sit on her stoop in the newly-built Town Center housing development on Joint Base Lewis McChord in 2011. Recent problems with on-base housing across the country have caught the attention of U.S. senators.
Tatiana Robles and her son Anton sit on her stoop in the newly-built Town Center housing development on Joint Base Lewis McChord in 2011. Recent problems with on-base housing across the country have caught the attention of U.S. senators. News Tribune file photo

Military families who reported poor on-base living conditions often felt they faced retaliation for doing so, an Army inspector general report released Thursday found.

The report is part of the military’s promise to improve on-base living conditions after media outlets last year exposed unacceptable conditions at military-provided housing across the U.S., such as mold, ants and lead.

In their review, the inspectors interviewed families and officials at bases across the U.S., including Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord, although it did not single out individual base findings in its report.

The inspector general found that housing inspectors failed to review “life, health or safety” items, such as mold or electrical issues.

It also found that on-base Army leaders were unaware of what authorities they had to oversee housing. Most Army housing is operated through a joint public/private venture with a privately run corporation serving as builder and property manager.

The venture, called the Residential Communities Initiative (RCI), is responsible for more than 98 percent of the Army’s housing, totaling more than 86,000 homes across the U.S.

The inspection teams found “general confusion and frustration regarding authorities granted to installation personnel in managing oversight of the RCI program.”

Military families are still going public with their housing problems, such as mold problems made public last month at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where several military families there have decided to move off base.

Previously, families have felt like the private companies running their military housing have retaliated against them after they’ve come forward, according to the report.

Families who filled out work orders for repairs or spoke out about a substandard condition, in some cases, found that immediately after speaking out they faced “additional move-out fees, fines due to yard maintenance and other discrepancies, and threats to call or involve the chain of command,” the IG reported.

The IG recommended that the Army establish a tenant bill of rights, a recommendation the Army concurred with.

JBLM spokesman Joe Piek said base commanders have worked for months to address concerns from military families about housing. In February, JBLM and contractor Lincoln Military Housing conducted an assessment of 5,159 homes on base and in some cases temporarily moved families because of needed repairs.

“JBLM is 100 percent committed to the health and welfare of all service members, civilian employees, and family members working and living on base, and we will continue to work with Lincoln Military Housing to ensure that our community receives the best quality housing available,” Piek said in a written statement.

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