I-TEAM: The Army is facing a housing crisis, documents show
Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7
FORT GORDON, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Our I-Team has uncovered new information about problems with military housing.
Local families have been sounding the alarm, but the Department of Defense has known about this for a long time.
We found not one, but two reports where the government saw a housing crisis coming, but it seems no one heeded the warning.
They’ve faced combat, and engaging 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.
Let’s start with who's in charge of military housing.
It’s not the military.
The military got out of the housing business in 1996 because, simply put, being a landlord is expensive. Enter real estate developers like Balfour Beatty. They would repair, replace, and maintain the homes. In return, the military promised a steady stream of customers with guaranteed cash -- in the form of a BAH or Basic Allowance for Housing -- for 50 years.
We crunched the numbers and found there are now 80,000 fewer soldiers in 2019 as there were in 2009. That includes a troop draw-down in 2011.
Coincidentally, that's the same year
"That was by far the most scary and most traumatizing moment of my life,” Kourtney Shelton, another Army wife whose child suffered from air trouble in her Fort Gordon home back in 2011, said. She was convinced fuzz in the AC vent and the dirty air ducts made her child, Evelyn, sick.
It's the first time we started looking into Balfour Beatty, the company that manages all eight neighborhoods on post. It's also in charge of military housing at more than 50 other installations across the country.
"Looking back, I wish that we would have lived anywhere else,” resident Adrienne Yakuboff said.
Yakuboff says those are roaches in her Keurig and roach droppings and roach eggs on her floor. It’s a problem she says a rotting back door only made worse.
"We had reported it to maintenance when it was a small hole, it didn't get repaired, it turned into the size of a baseball,” Yakuboff said.
Three other families were too nervous to go on camera. Instead, they sent us photos of possible mold and moisture concerns. One man said, “You wouldn't want your family breathing this in.”
Michaela Hall believes her son did.
"'Oh, ma'am, we'll send somebody out and get it checked, you know? Check the mold or, you know, see what the problem is. We'll probably clean your air ducts and your air conditioning,'” Hall said of a person who claimed they’d get their issue. “Nothing resolved.”
After rushing him to the ER with breathing problems not once but twice, she rushed her family off-post.
Another resident, Carol, who wanted to hide her identity to protect her husband, showed us her medical records. From acute sinusitis, to chronic allergies, to community-acquired pneumonia, to COPD, it appears she was sick the majority of the time she lived on-post.
"I never thought that's what it was until I got the letter,” Carol said.
It was a letter identifying her as "submitting a work order addressing health or safety concerns." She's now living off-post and on is on the Army's Housing Environmental Health Response registry. We're told 90 Fort Gordon families in all are on that list.
Recently, the Garrison Commander Col. Jim Clifford gave us unprecedented access, taking us on driving tour of the neighborhoods on-post.
“Well, there certainly has been a problem, it's been a problem across multiple Army posts, but really, what we're focused on here at Gordon is life-health safety,” Clifford said. “It's our first -- traunch, if you will. So we want to make sure that any gas issues, electrical issues, black mold, any of those problems that affect life-health safety, we want to get after first."
Clifford confirmed 122 electrical issues, 130 pest problems, 73 mold moisture complaints, and seven gas issues in Balfour Beatty homes on Fort Gordon, but a former Balfour Beatty employee who wanted to be referred to only as Dorothy believes the problem is worse than the Army knows.
She says she was told to keep Army partners in the dark about problems.
"What happens in Balfour Beatty stays in Balfour Beatty,” Dorothy said. “So it's not the Army that's neglecting; it's the contract."
Again that 50-year agreement is built on a base number of renters, which has gone down, but so have their checks. In 2015, soldiers saw a cut in their housing allowance, meaning fewer people were now paying fewer dollars for housing.
Apparently, the Government Accountability Office saw this coming. First was early as 2009 when it warned about lower occupancy.
Then, just last year, warning about the effects of reducing housing allowances. But here we are in 2019 in what the Army itself calls a "housing crisis."
It’s yet another battle our soldiers and their families have to face.
We're also facing a battle to get information. We filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all Balfour Beatty complaints. We're told -- there's not a central place where they all go. We have to track them down at each post, and that's what we're doing. But the problem with that is no one has been keeping an eye on the big picture.