FORT LEE, Virginia – Two messages resonated loud-and-clear at the Aug. 19 housing town hall here.
The first is that some residents are still unhappy about their living conditions at Fort Lee and Hunt Military Communities’ efforts to make things better. The second is the determination of the command to monitor work orders and resident feedback to ensure the housing partner is providing safe, healthy and functional homes to the military families who serve the nation.
Town hall attendance was strong with just over 100 individuals watching and providing feedback through the Facebook Live broadcast and a good in-person showing of at least 30 residents at the Memorial Chapel meeting location.
“Our purpose today is the same (as previous town halls held in February and May),” noted Col. Hollie Martin, garrison commander in her opening remarks. “We’re here to ensure our Soldiers and families have quality homes and feel safe and healthy living in them.”
Maj. Gen. Rodney Fogg, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general also welcomed the participants and assured them all comments about housing issues are welcome without fear of chain of command reprisal.
The colonel updated attendees on recent developments like the release of privatized housing survey results that showed the lowest overall satisfaction score among residents here in five years. Just over half of the Fort Lee homes invited to participate in the survey did so, and she emphasized why the involvement should have been higher.
“A point I made at the last town hall is that our (housing) partners get graded on the participation in that survey. So, if residents don’t participate, it’s not necessarily a good thing in terms of holding our housing partners accountable. The same could be said about the maintenance satisfaction surveys (sent out when work orders are closed). If you do not provide that feedback, whether satisfied or dissatisfied, then you have not let your voice be heard.”
Issues that continue to garner the most attention, Martin noted, are the need for mold abatement and identifying related health issues; excessively delayed or shoddy maintenance work; insufficient landscaping services and residents feeling disrespected by the privatized housing staff. All of those concerns were expressed by town hall attendees later in the three-hour session.
Martin emphasized she’s not just looking for quick fixes, but long-term sustainable plans for continuous upkeep. “One area where we’ve made significant progress, but aren’t quite there yet, is resident communication,” she said. “I can’t overemphasize how important the work order process is to helping the command help you out because we’re tracking those every day. Also, be specific when reporting what’s wrong because if you just say ‘my sink is broken’ in a home with three of them, the maintenance person has to guess which one it is and may not get it right.”
Hunt Communities Assistant Vice President Jason Frenz highlighted a recent development in the work order area – his organization’s release of the RENTCafé resident app, which allows users to track the progress of repairs and offer feedback about the timeliness and quality of the work. It is available through the Apple and Google Play app stores.
Frenz emphasized that any resident who feels their home repair work was shoddy, completed in an unprofessional manner – to include maintenance workers entering without permission – or not being completed within the promised response times for emergency, urgent or routine submissions should make their Hunt neighborhood representative aware of the issue. It also can be reported to the post housing office and the commander’s hotline at 804-734-6300.
The newly formed Community Advisory Board also was discussed at length during the briefing. Organized by Hunt, it consists of a representative from each on-post neighborhood who meet regularly to engage in constructive dialogue, identify concerns and assist in planning community events to enhance Fort Lee’s quality of life.
All Hunt staff will be attending five-star customer service training, Frenz reported. An additional day of pest control treatments has been implemented, he said, and the pace of duct cleaning is picking up with 331 units completed out of the 858 homes initially targeted for the work.
Lt. Col. Nichelle Johnson, Kenner Army Health Clinic commander, distributed literature and spoke about mold. She made note of the Army Medical Command’s launch of the Housing Environmental Health Response Registry – a system that allows residents to document illnesses suspected to have been caused by mold in their military homes and obtain additional information on treatment and prevention.
“If you believe mold in your home is making you sick, document it,” Johnson stressed. “Make note of the time your symptoms began and if they improve when out of your home. Talk to your health care provider and get it diagnosed. The earlier this is done, the better the outcome.”
Resident questions and observations during the final portion of the town hall mostly fell into the categories already addressed by the garrison commander. A specialist living in the Harrison Villa neighborhood reported his master bathroom toilet has overflowed at least once a week for the past two months. Another resident in that area reported a rat problem, which the Hunt representatives said they are already investigating. A Soldier Family Readiness Group representative pointed out that their groups could be a resource for struggling families.
Emotionally charged comments like those of one Madison Park resident, however, added an additional level of intensity to the proceedings.
“Sometimes, I just wish the people at Hunt – the higher ups, not our community (representatives) … had more empathy for their residents, not sympathy,” she observed. “Like, take a second and sit and imagine being in my position, dealing with the issues in my home … you wouldn’t want to live there either. You wouldn’t want to deal with that either … but what would you guys do if you were in our positions?
She added, “Sometimes as residents, we feel like you guys tell us … what you think we want to hear, but (then) you guys don’t follow through with the things (you are) saying that you’re gonna do and promise us. … So, what would you guys recommend, or what would you guys do if you were in our position, displaced, dealing with the health issues, and the mold issues, and not living in your home, sleeping in your bed every night? Like, what would you guys do if you were in our shoes?”
Fogg offered his assurance that Hunt is listening and taking action. The problems in housing happened, he later noted, because the Army dropped the ball on oversight of privatized housing. Reversing the damage is going to take time, but he is seeing a genuine commitment to do what’s right for military families.
Martin had offered her take on the discussion in an earlier comment.
“Don’t suffer in silence,” she said. “If something is wrong, ask for help. Talk to your chain of command. Talk to your neighborhood advisors. Believe it or not, they’re on your side. This team wants you to be happy here and focused on your job instead of worrying about maintenance in your home all the time. We always say (Army life) is what you make it. As a community we need to ask ourselves what each of us is doing to stay engaged and be part of the solution.”
Fort Lee is the Army’s Home of Sustainment and supports the training, education and development of adaptive Army logistics professionals. Major organizations on the installation include the Defense Commissary Agency, Defense Contract Management Agency, Combined Arms Support Command, the Army Logistics University, U.S. Army Ordnance School, U.S. Army Quartermaster School and U.S. Army Transportation School. Fort Lee supports approximately 90,000 Soldiers, retirees, veterans, family members and civilian employees on- and off-post with a regional economic impact of about $2.4 billion per year.