JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO–LACKLAND, Texas – Air Force privatized housing residents who want to exercise the rights outlined in the recently-signed Tenant Bill of Rights will have several options to raise concerns and resolve issues.
Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper and the service secretaries signed the Tenant Bill of Rights Feb. 25, empowering residents with processes to receive information, assistance, advocacy and insight into the housing maintenance work order processes.
“The Air Force is committed to providing the full benefit of the 15 rights in the Bill by May 1,” said John W. Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Energy. “Three crucial rights are still in coordination to ensure formal, standardized processes including access to maintenance history of a unit prior to the signing of leasing documents, a standard dispute resolution process and a mechanism for withholding rent until disputes are resolved.”
In recent months, Air Force housing officials have worked with residents, Air Force leadership and policymakers to develop programs and tools to improve the housing program’s effectiveness. “Those processes strengthen the Tenant Bill of Rights and give residents a pathway to resolving issues,” Henderson said. “The Air Force is taking steps to give residents the mechanisms they need to use those rights for their benefit, and the benefit of their families.”
“Air Force residents have four main channels to resolve concerns,” said Col. Michael Beach, Air Force housing program chief, “the project owner, military housing offices, their chain of command and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.”
“Each entity has a role in ensuring residents have safe, healthy housing options,” he said. “Most problems can be resolved at the project owner level, but we have installed a full-spectrum approach to ensure everyone from leadership to residents are empowered to take action.”
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the project owner to maintain the housing units and communities. Residents should start with the project owner. But when the project owner fails to meet standards, residents can reach out to their installation’s military housing office for assistance.
“Problem solving begins with the project owners,” Beach said. The Tenant Bill of Rights captures residents’ basic rights to housing that meets community health and environmental standards, and has working fixtures, appliances and utilities. Project owners are responsible for meeting this requirement, and the Air Force is working to ensure residents can better track work orders.
Military housing offices
Under the Tenant Bill of Rights, residents can request a plain-language review of the lease before signing and up to 30 days after move-in from a military housing officer at their installation. The housing office is the liaison between the resident and the project owner when needed, and represents resident concerns to installation leadership. The military housing office also connects residents to other forms of advocacy, such as the military attorney assistance and in the near future, the resident advocate.
“We want residents to start with the project owner. But residents are encouraged to reach out to their installation’s military housing office for assistance without fear of reprisal if efforts to resolve issues directly with the project owner are unsuccessful,” Beach said.
Chain of command
For Airmen who have been unable to find resolution for their housing concerns by working with the project owner, their chain of command can assist in resolving issues. A resident can bring their housing concerns to their chain of command for advice and guidance on how to best reach a resolution. The chain of command may also connect the Airmen with other means of on-base support, such as the military housing office, military attorney assistance and the resident advocate.
“Military legal assistance attorneys are available, and soon so will resident advocates, at the installation level to provide support and advice to our Airmen,” he said. “This support can range from tenant responsibilities during the move-out process to assistance on navigating the tenant-landlord dispute resolution process.”
Air Force Civil Engineer Center
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center stood up the toll-free housing helpline in May 2019, as a direct line to the program directors to assist privatized housing residents in resolving their housing concerns. They are currently working with the Department of Defense to ensure the common forms, documents and processes are established across the enterprise and are working to create the vehicles for resident’s rent to be held in escrow during the dispute resolution process, and processes for rent reduction/refund based on the decision rendered in the dispute resolution process.
“The residents’ right to advocacy is a key element in the bill. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center is standardizing the dispute resolution program so residents with persistent issues can use the formal processes after having tried to work with project owners without success,” Beach said.
As the program managers, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center plays a central role in ensuring residents are able to execute the rights spelled out in the Bill. If housing concerns are unable to be addressed at the base level, residents can utilize the toll-free housing helpline by calling 800-482-6431. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center will record and investigate the resident’s concern ensuring that a resolution between the tenant and landlord is reached.
The Air Force is continually working to improve the privatized housing program. Current initiatives include restructuring project owners’ performance incentive fees to better reflect a projects health and resident satisfaction; reworking the annual resident satisfaction survey to provide clear data of where the problems are and what needs to be sustained at the projects; and a manpower plus-up at the military housing offices to better assist residents in the privatized housing program.
“Residents should begin by working with their project owner when seeking assistance to resolve housing issues. For additional support with unresolved concerns, residents can reach out to their military housing office,” said Carol-Ann Beda, acting assistant deputy secretary for Air Force installation. “For persistent, unaddressed housing concerns, Airmen are encouraged to utilize their chain of command and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s toll-free housing helpline.”
Beda encourages residents to make their voices count by filling out the work order and annual site surveys, and by participating in their installation’s Resident Council. “The results of these surveys and councils help the Air Force ensure the project owners are delivering safe and healthy homes and contribute significantly to the performance incentive fee earned by project owners,” Beda said.
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