I-TEAM: New Tenant Bill of Rights could mean help for Fort Gordon families living in military housing

Tuesday, March 3, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – We have a major update when it comes to military housing.

For months, we have been investigating reports of mold, bugs, electrical problems, and safety issues at Fort Gordon.

The issue has gone all the way up the chain of command, and there’s been some progress in Washington DC.

It's only two pieces of paper, but it's backed by some powerful brass. It's a housing Bill of Rights that can hopefully shield our military families from past housing problems, but there might be a few chinks in this new armor.

Our I-Team spent months talking to Fort Gordon families -- many too scared to go on camera, but happy to share photos and medical records.

At Fort Gordon and more than 50 other installations, military housing is owned and operated by Balfour Beatty Communities. But there are others, and ever since the housing crisis story broke, all have been in the line of fire.

"I don't know whether it is just simple, pure incompetence or some type of fraudulent -- fraudulence or negligence,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said during a hearing about deplorable military housing conditions.

Esper’s name now sits atop the Tenant Bill of Rights that promises our service members "access to safe, quality, and well-maintained homes."

It officially takes effect May 1, arming our military men and women with "15 rights," but three more "key rights" are still in the works: access to maintenance history, process for dispute resolution, and withholding of rent until disputes are resolved.

That last one is important. It was part of the promise a year ago, but it looks like they're still working on it.

Fort Gordon, meanwhile, is thinking outside its Balfour Beatty Box.

"This is part of a holistic Army plan for housing for our service members on the Fort,” Fort Gordon Garrison Commander Col. Jim Clifford said.

For the first time, the Fort is partnering with another company off-post: ATC Development of Augusta. Clifford himself signed the agreement.

Helena Springs Apartments -- 5 miles off post -- now offers the same benefits of living on post: no security deposit, no application fee, no credit check, and no administrative fee.

Clifford said these changes were not because of the housing crisis.

“I think, regardless of what's going on with the housing, the overall housing density on the Fort does not support the overall growth of the installation,” Clifford said.

That growth will be even more apparent when Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty arrives in May, bringing his Virginia-based command with him. By June, Fort Gordon will officially be the Army's Cyber headquarters.

That makes the mission to help house members of our military even more critical here.

"Often times in this market, it's hard to get something within the younger soldier's housing allowance,” Mary Scott said.

It's also why Clifford hopes other local developers will think about a partnership.

"We're just looking to see what best practices are across the Army and seeing how we can incorporate them here at the Fort,” Clifford said.

These best practices look to help our military families can get the best housing possible, leaving the fighting on the battlefield and not on the home front.

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