The Honorable John W. Henderson, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Energy, and Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Air Force Materiel Command commander, conducted a privatized housing tour at Barksdale Air Force Base, Jan. 6.
The tour familiarized the leaders with the current condition of privatized base housing on the installation, aligning with current Air Force efforts to improve the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Program for the service.
“We are taking this very seriously. The way that I treat this is in the vernacular of an urgent operational need,” Bunch said. “We’ve got to continue to put our focus on this as a top priority so that we are providing the right support for our Airmen and their families.”
During the tour at Barksdale AFB, Henderson and Bunch met with residents and base leadership, and they visited the housing management office. The meetings identified specific local issues and the overall priorities for the base.
“Our visit today, in large part, was to reconcile and make sure that some of the things we think should be happening are actually happening at the base level,” Henderson said. “One of the big challenges and takeaways for me is the fact that all of the historic homes (at Barksdale AFB) have some endemic issues with mold. We have some pest infestations and just a lot of backlog work that needs to be done in order to improve them. That’s going to take some financial investment, … teamwork and a concerted effort to address.”
Safe and healthy privatized housing options are a priority not only to base and wing commanders, but also to the highest levels of Air Force leadership. In 2019, the Secretary of the Air Force directed a 100% review of all privatized housing on Air Force installations. The review, which included housing inspections, resident feedback and policy evaluation, highlighted a number of issues that the Air Force is working to solve at the highest levels.
“We are all committed to ensuring that you have the right living conditions for your family so that you can do your day-to-day mission on your installation with peace of mind,” Bunch said.
The Air Force Housing Review resulted in 51 initiatives along five lines of effort that were designed to improve housing across the board:
● Providing transparency in the work order process
● Ensuring residents can receive help when they need it
● Simple move-in and move-out procedures
● Improved communication
● Resident “Bill of Rights”
A key issue revealed during the service-wide housing review was that Air Force military housing offices were inadequately staffed to oversee all of the work of privatized project owners. According to Henderson, through efforts with Congress, the Air Force secured $32 million that will be used to create 219 Air Force military housing office positions across the branch. This is just one solution of many in the works to improve housing for military families.
“This is (part of) our effort to work with the other services, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Congress on things like a Resident Bill of Rights,” Henderson said. “The Bill of Rights lets residents know what their rights are in housing and that they have the right to competent maintenance. They have the right to a good dispute resolution process, and they have the right to have their issues addressed in an adequate amount of time. It’s a huge effort going on there, and we are proud to be working with our partners.”
Henderson stressed the importance of persistence and patience as the Air Force continues to work the resolutions to housing issues. He also reminded Barksdale AFB Airmen and their families of the resources available to address issues that are not being solved by privatized housing offices at their local installation, which include reaching out to the base military housing office or through chains of command. The Air Force privatized housing helpline is another option and is available 24/7 at 800-482-6431.
“My biggest message is (that) I understand this is frustrating. A lot of us who are working on the solutions for privatized housing have also lived in privatized housing,” Henderson said. “We understand (your) perspective, but I want to leave you with the absolute commitment that we are here, and we are going to see it through. We’re going to make this better.”