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I-TEAM: Fort Gordon housing issues getting worse, families say

Published: Jun. 10, 2022 at 6:45 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - For more than a decade now, our I-Team has been uncovering problems with family housing at Fort Gordon.

We’ve exposed things like mold, electrical and gas issues, and pest problems. Even the Army admitted what we found affected families’ safety.

All of this recently put Fort Gordon in the national spotlight again when Senator Jon Ossoff used our I-Team reports as a starting point for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations which led to a recent hearing on Capitol Hill.

Essentially, Fort Gordon became the “poster child” for problems with unsafe living conditions for our military families. That’s why some might be surprised our I-Team has uncovered even more problems on post.

Balfour Beatty, the private company in charge of housing at Fort Gordon and more than 50 other U.S. military installations, is under the microscope to do the right thing. After the PSI hearing, the Army opened its own investigation and audit into Balfour Beatty at Fort Gordon.

The Department of Justice could still bring criminal charges, and Congress could still act. One would think Balfour Beatty would be on its best behavior, but multiple families tell me it’s only gone from bad to worse.

MORE THAN A DECADE OF I-TEAM COVERAGE:

As the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours,” but Joy Viera never expected an actual flood in her Fort Gordon home.

In a cell phone video taken May 29th, she shows a leak in her kitchen in Gordon Terrace. Water is rushing out a hole in the ceiling onto the floor below. If her furniture had arrived, it would have covered her dining room table. She walks upstairs, showing both bathtubs full of what appears to be raw sewage with bugs.

Apparently, the water dripping downstairs is “feces water.” When her family moved here from Washington state, she says they waited for a month-and-a-half for military housing.

“We just spent all this money in a hotel for six and a half weeks because they had told us that we would have a house,” Joy Viera said. “They did not have a house for us.”

She tells us that confused her because there had not been a family in this home since January, meaning it had been empty for six months.

She says Fort Gordon knew they were coming in February. Once again, the Vieras do not have a house.

Joy Viera: “We are currently displaced.”

Liz Riley: “By the base.”

Joy Viera: “By the base. Yes. After not even a full 48 hours in our home.”

Liz Riley and her family are displaced, too. They are staying at the same hotel where Joy’s family is staying. Joy jokes her experience made her sick to her stomach, but Liz says mold in her home made her sick. She says it gave her a terrible rash that spread all over her body, but her hands were most affected.

Liz Riley: “Couldn’t wash my son. Could barely change his diaper. Hurt to pick them up. Like, I couldn’t do anything. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

Meredith Anderson: “Have you ever had skin issues?”

Liz Riley: “No tree, animal. Nothing has ever affected my skin. Ever.”

She says she changed her diet, detergents – everything. Nothing worked. Balfour Beatty dismissed her concerns, according to Liz, as well as multiple work orders about possible mold in a bathroom.

“They didn’t really want to look into it,” she said. She tells us maintenance workers only found it when her husband pushed them.

“Sure enough,” she said, “there’s water that had leaked all around the base to the toilet, underneath the floor. And mold was growing.”

Her rash was growing too, and so were her concerns her seemingly healthy son was being affected in a way she couldn’t see, so she and her husband dis not wait to be displaced. They left on their own and are footing their own hotel bill.

“I don’t have shortness of breath anymore,” Liz said. “That’s gone.”

MORE THAN A DECADE OF I-TEAM COVERAGE:

Her rash is also clearing up. In a May 27th photo, it’s covered with blisters. The I-Team took a photo on June 3rd where the blisters are gone, and it’s obviously healing.

“This is proof to me that there was something there that was causing this,” Liz said. “And it’s getting better now that I’m not there.”

Before she left, Liz posted on her neighborhood Facebook page.

“I just wanted to know if anyone else has experienced anything.”

She says she was being made to feel as if she was making this whole thing up, so she wanted to know if she was alone. She says she quickly found others were in the same boat.

“12 People said, I found mold in my home,” she said.

Eleven others said they had skin issues, and 9 others reported having other health issues pop up after moving into their Fort Gordon home.

“Someone added nosebleeds, which we didn’t experience, but seven other people said they started getting nosebleeds,” Liz said.

Again, this is one neighborhood. Lakeview Terrace is Fort Gordon’s newest and supposedly nicest neighborhood.

Hearing all of this makes Haley Perez nervous. She lives in Gordon Terrace with her husband and two small children.

“That’s a routine question I get every time I take my children for their routine check-ups. You live in these houses. Your children are being exposed to these things. Do you have any exposed paint? Is any flooring coming up? Are your vents cleaned out? It just goes to show how unhealthy the living conditions in these homes are.”

She’s been so concerned about her kids, that she didn’t realize she could be affected, too. She says she was recently rushed to the ER. Her husband called 911 when she couldn’t catch her breath. She says she had childhood asthma but hasn’t had breathing problems since. Doctors weren’t able to pinpoint the problem and sent her home with inhalers.

Haley Perez: “I really don’t know what this could be. It doesn’t seem like asthma. It’s, it’s just crazy.”

Meredith Anderson: “Do you think it’s the house?

Haley Perez: “I feel now, hearing…that it possibly could be…”

Liz Riley: “Not to scare you, but…”

Haley Perez: “…but it is scary to think that I’ve been living in a home that I could have been exposed to something that is making it where I can’t even breathe. And even today, I’m still having to take deep breaths.”

Haley has been frustrated by safety concerns that are seemingly an easy fix. For example, she says it took crews 4 months to replace a shattered window.

She says she has also yet to receive important paperwork about her home.

Liz Riley: “So they never gave y’all the seven-year maintenance report?”

Haley Perez: “No.”

Liz Riley: “You still haven’t seen it?”

Haley Perez: “We have not seen it. They told us that they were not going to give it to us. We asked if we could at least have the maintenance request for the previous people in the home, and they told us no to that as well.”

That report is part of the Tenant Bill of Rights. Congress enacted it when trying to fix the military housing crisis. The I-Team found Balfour Beatty was not following parts of that law at Fort Gordon, including providing a maintenance report to families in 2020.

BBC got an extension to June 1, 2021. By law, the Perez family should have a copy of that report.

“They’ve been getting away with this for so long,” Liz said. “What am I missing? Why aren’t they being held accountable? Why isn’t anybody fixing this?”

Service members and their families can reach out to Sen. Jon Ossoff’s office for help. Just visit Ossoff.Senate.

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