I-TEAM UPDATE: Progress on fixing military housing woes

Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 6:44 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The fight for better military housing at Fort Gordon is entering a new chapter.

For years now, the I-TEAM has been exposing dangers in homes there. The search for answers has taken our I-TEAM to Capitol Hill and back again twice in two years.

Meredith Anderson was in Washington, D.C., last week, where Army leaders pledged millions of dollars to fix the mess we’ve been exposing at Fort Gordon for well over a decade.

And it’s coming at an important time.

Inspectors are currently going house-by-house on post, and they won’t stop until they’ve been through each one on Fort Gordon. Sen. Jon Ossoff saw these inspections firsthand before once again putting Fort Gordon in the national spotlight.

“This is a leak from the master bathroom toilet upstairs,” said Joy Viera on a cell phone video, as brown water is starting to pool on the floor below. “That is disgusting.”

Later, in a June 2022 interview, she told us, “Feces-filled water is dripping from our ceiling.”

It might not have hit the fan, but it sure created a storm.

Joy told us she felt the cold shoulder after speaking out to the I-TEAM. “Housing representatives that were supposed to be representing our family completely stopped speaking to me,” Joy said.

A month later, she and her family moved to house number two at Fort Gordon. While it didn’t have any number two dripping from the ceiling, it had another problem.

“I noticed there was no airflow upstairs, so I checked the vent for blockage, and then I found mold,” she said at Senator Jon Ossoff’s Oversight Hearing on Capitol Hill.

Some top brass was in the room, like Lieutenant General Kevin Vereen, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Installations. “Reality really sets in when you hear personal testimony,” he said.

That doesn’t just go for Joy’s testimony.


Ashley Porras also lived on Fort Gordon: “I found black and green mold.”

Brianna Barnhart is with the Safe Military Housing Initiative: “Military families should not be treated as second-class citizens.”

Erin Greer currently lives on Fort Gordon: “Our home wasn’t fit for human occupancy. We immediately moved out. For about two weeks, we lived out of our car and on our porches.”

“We obviously need to do more, " said Rachel Jacobson, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment. She declined to speak with the I-TEAM further about what “more” means, so we will have to rely on her testimony in the session.

She admitted Fort Gordon’s primary mission has changed since Balfour Beatty took over housing, and the addition of the Cyber Center of Excellence significantly increases the need for more of it on post. Jacobson explained, essentially, the Army plans to put its money where its mouth is. “An initial step is an inclusion in our budget request for fiscal 24 of 50 million dollars to support the recapitalization of the Fort Gordon housing inventory. This will go to housing at Fort Gordon. This doesn’t go to Balfour Beatty’s pockets.”

But those are just funds the Army is requesting.

They told us in the last few weeks, money was approved to get 118 homes livable again. Right now, they’re so bad, families can’t live in them.

We also got an update on new construction, a neighborhood the I-TEAM first told you about two years ago. It’s now expected to break ground in 60 to 90 days, according to Lt. General Vereen. With a problem of this scope, 76 new homes won’t solve the problem, but Pine Tree Terrace is a start.

The I-TEAM has learned most of the homes will be four-plexes. They will be two stories with four bedrooms and two and a half baths. They have a lot of upgrades with families in mind. Plans include bigger garages with storage, a full laundry room, and an oversized pantry. The single-family homes will be one story and have all the number of bedrooms and features. They are also all ADA-compliant and fully wheelchair accessible.

While plans help us see what the homes should soon look like, the concern now is how to keep an eye on the things you can’t see.

“I’m worried about this,” said Senator Ossoff. “On the one hand, we need new homes on post. You know, we got 50-year-old homes with a lot of problems. Part of the solution here is new construction. On the other hand, the Army needs to define with more clarity how they are going to manage this construction project.”

Keep in mind this project will be managed by Balfour Beatty, the same company that pleaded guilty to fraud admitting it inflated work orders so executives could get bonuses: bonuses the I-TEAM tracked at Fort Gordon, totaling in the millions. It was also the same company at the center of a US Senate hearing one year ago.

There has been some progress.

According to Senator Ossoff’s report, Balfour Beatty hired 18 new maintenance technicians as well as another manager and two call center employees on site to “be more responsive to tenants.” Balfour Beatty has also “added or enhanced more than 130 training courses for its employees over the past year.” There’s also quality control for “high-risk repairs” after a worker didn’t adequately seal a gas line and EMS found a woman unresponsive just outside her Fort Gordon home.


Secretary Jacobson told the families this month in D.C., she was paying very close attention to Balfour Beatty. “I said to them, you are in non-compliance with your ground lease, and this could end up in default and termination, and I wanted an immediate – I think I gave them 14 days to respond about what they were going to do about this.”

“I think there are indications that the Army is taking this seriously,” explained Senator Ossoff.

As for Joy Viera, the Army has already moved her family to another state and so far, so good. “No poop coming from the ceiling. No mold in the vents.” Viera says she does not regret speaking out. “I absolutely do not. I can’t because this is too – too important an issue to keep quiet about.”

The I-TEAM has reached out to Fort Gordon leaders about a timeline for the new construction, but they haven’t been able to tell us any details at all. We will keep you posted.