I-TEAM: Some companies still fail to address safety issues in military housing
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - They’ve faced combat and engaged in cyber warfare, but our men and women in uniform have also been fighting another battle. Only this one is on the home front, and their families, including their children, are on the front lines.
But we found parts of that law are not being followed. It has to do with the tenant bill of rights. The Secretary of Defense signed it right before the pandemic.
One year later, housing companies still haven’t made good on a few of Congress’s most basic demands.
After Fort Gordon families sounded the alarm, the I-Team went to work, uncovering hundreds of safety issues, everything from electrical, to mold and moisture complaints, to gas issues, to pest problems.
In all, Fort Gordon has eight neighborhoods on post, military housing, that’s technically not run by the military. Instead, I-Team found it’s a private company in the UK.
The company, Balfour Beatty, has a contract to handle housing at 50 other military installations across the country. It has a pretty powerful shield: a 50-year contract with the U.S. Government.
Still, just last month, Balfour Beatty found itself in the hot seat at a virtual Congressional hearing.
“Balfour Beatty communities take the responsibility of serving those who serve our country very seriously,” Richard Taylor with Balfour Beatty Communities said.
We found so far, only 15 of the 18 requirements of The Tenant Bill of Rights are completed.
What’s still missing?
1. A standard lease utilized by all companies that manage military housing...
2. A plan to handle disputes that’s also universal for all companies.
3. And seven years’ worth of maintenance records.
Reps from two other military housing companies, Lendlease and Corvias, were also there. And noticeably absent, the company in charge of housing at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia.
“Unfortunately, another partner, I don’t want to call him a partner. But Clark Realty Capital has declined our invitation to join this hearing,” State Representative John Garamendi, D-California, said.
Meanwhile, the I-Team found these housing companies are also under fire from the Government Accountability Office.
A recent report reminds lawmakers of lead-based paint and other hazards, such as mold and rodent infestations. It also notes housing companies have “unreliable data,” warning lawmakers of “misleading results reported to Congress.”
Meanwhile, Georgia has two newly elected senators to fight for Georgia’s military families.
Senator John Ossoff was the first to visit and tour Fort Gordon.
“My team inspected the housing on post today. They’re going to prepare a report for me on what they saw,” he said.
The I-Team sent Sen. Ossoff links to our investigation prior to his visit. We asked to speak one-on-one about this, but his office declined. His representatives suggested we bring it up in a public news conference, so we did.
“What can your office do to help because this is a very long standing private-public partnership with this housing situation,” I asked.
“Well, look, I’m here to serve the personnel and the military families who are living on the post,” Sen. Ossoff said.
“Will you commit to working with my office to ensure that federal resources necessary to ensure that housing on post at Fort Benning and Fort Gordon is safe for our military families?” Sen. Ossoff asked Young.
“Oh, so if you see me smiling, it’s because my partner with me was born at Fort Gordon, in Augusta and grew up in Augusta. You actually absolutely have my commitment,” Young responded.
A few weeks later, Senator Raphael Warnock took his first tour of Fort Gordon and sat down with me for this exclusive interview after.
“I look forward to coming back and doing an even deeper dive next time,” he said.
“There’s been some issues over the years – this isn’t anything new -- where military housing has not been up to par on some installations, Fort Gordon being one of them,” I said. “Did anyone say anything to you about many issues there or stuff that they’re working on?”
“I saw some of the work and the upgrades on some of the housing that’s 50 years old, and the ways in which there were some renovations as opposed to building new facilities in some cases,” said Warnock.
Both Senators Ossoff and Warnock tell the I-Team, they’ll be watching.
“When I think about what our men and women do for us, in uniform, the ways in which they protect us and keep us safe, the least we can do is to make sure that they have safe housing,” said Warnock.
It’s why News 12 hasn’t stopped asking these questions.
For more than a decade, we’ve asked to sit down with Balfour Beatty and we have been turned down every single time.
That is until now.
This coming Thursday, Rick Taylor, the same man who testified in front of Congress, joins Fort Gordon Garrison Commander Colonel Shaw Pick to talk about what went wrong.
“We’ve got to win their trust, and in some cases, we’ve got to win it back,” said Col. Pick.
“It’s just been...difficult. So even today happening is proof to me of monumental changes,” I said.
“Well, we appreciate you giving us the shot,” he said.
Colonel Pick and Mr. Taylor say failure is not an option because this impacts all of us. Fort Gordon is training an army of cyber warriors that are worth a lot of money in the private sector.
If housing isn’t a priority, we risk losing soldiers to companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.
The I-Team gives you exclusive access to major updates and construction projects happening this summer. It’s big steps forward to hopefully eliminate at least one battle the families on post have had to face.
FOLLOW THE I-TEAM COVERAGE
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