Rep. Jimmy Panetta to introduce military housing legislation – Monterey Herald
MONTEREY – A bill seeking to improve oversight of privatized military housing is being introduced by Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, Thursday in an effort to increase transparency and communication for tenants.
“It is our duty to make sure that those who serve and sacrifice, including service members and their family members, have safe, clean, and well-maintained housing,” Panetta said in an email. “My bipartisan legislation will improve oversight of privatized military housing provided by the Department of Defense, and increase transparency and communication for the military families.”
The Better Military Housing Act strengthens Defense Department oversight of privatized military housing; mandates enhanced health, safety and quality of privatized military housing; improves communications and transparency among tenants, landlords and the Defense Department; and seeks policy options for innovative long-term improvements to privatized military housing.
The Monterey Peninsula is home to military housing at the Presidio of Monterey with 37 historical units; Naval Support Activity Monterey (Naval Postgraduate School), four historical units; Ord Military Community in Seaside,1,872 units; and La Mesa Village in Monterey, 667 units. All 2,580 units are privatized housing under the Army’s Residential Communities Initiative and have a 92% occupancy rate. Of those, 1,474 of the homes in privatized housing were built prior to 1978.
The Presidio of Monterey has held town hall events “to address any issues or concerns related to the possible presence of lead in buildings constructed prior to 1978, especially in our military and privatized housing,” according to a notice from Presidio of Monterey.
Besides lead, mold has been cited as a potential problem in military housing on the Monterey Peninsula.
“While lead-based paint was a concern identified at Army level some months ago, the list of concerns raised by residents is as varied as the residents themselves, ranging from child supervision regulations, response to individual work orders, carpet cleaning/replacement, maintenance of common areas, appliance upgrades, to speed enforcement in the housing areas,” said James Laughlin, a Presidio of Monterey spokesman.
The Residential Communities Initiative is the Army’s public/private venture program which partners the military with the private sector to privatize housing on Army installations. The program takes 44 installations, combines them into 34 projects of over 86,000 homes that make up 98% of the Army’s family housing inventory in the United States.
The Defense Department has come under scrutiny for lack of oversight regarding military housing and the contracts that service member families enter into with private partner housing companies. Those partner housing companies hold 50-year land-lease contracts on properties and receive all of a service member’s basic allowance housing directly, regardless of locality.
The legislation to strengthen oversight is bipartisan and bicameral and will impact all military families in and entering into private military housing. Rep. Richard Hudson, (R-NC), will serve as the original lead Republican cosponsor. His district includes Fort Bragg which, similar to the Presidio of Monterey, faces an acute housing problem. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-NV), is introducing companion legislation in the Senate.
“Military families have been dealing with untenable living situations in private, on-base housing for too long. To learn more about the issue, and hear directly from service members in my district, I met with military families, Installation Chain of Command, and private partner landlords — to facilitate discussion, address constituent concerns, conduct oversight, and work to develop solutions to remedy systemic military housing issues,” said Panetta.
Laughlin said that the garrison has established a Government Housing Oversight Office hotline and home visits are being conducted by the service member’s chain of command.
Regular town hall engagements are held to educate the public on the work order submission process and invite residents to voice any concerns they may have. The monthly town hall meetings are livestreamed on Facebook for resident convenience and transparency, according to Laughlin.
Panetta believes that this legislation, crafted after hearing from multiple stakeholders, is the best, most workable way forward to develop solutions to remedy systemic military housing issues.