Lawmakers are seeking to strengthen oversight of privatized military housing by creating a new Defense Department council that deals specifically with military families’ residential issues.

“It is unacceptable for any of our service members and their families to live in unsafe military housing with black mold, collapsed roofs or exposed electrical wires because DoD is failing in its oversight responsibilities,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., chair of the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee, in a statement. The bill she introduced in the Senate Tuesday is co-sponsored by Sens Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the House by Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., with co-sponsor Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla.

“My bipartisan bill with senators Shaheen and Hirono and representatives Jacobs and Bice will mandate increased oversight of military housing, including DoD’s creation of a public complaint database, and report its work to Congress so that military families receive the safe housing they deserve,” Warren said.

A number of improvements have been made by defense and service officials, and privatized housing landlords. But some issues with military housing continue despite the massive reforms enacted by Congress more than three years ago, which required the Defense Department and military services to address a raft of tenant concerns and improve their oversight of privatized housing.

The proposed Defense Military Housing Readiness Council would review and make recommendations to DoD regarding policies for privatized housing; monitor compliance and implementation by DoD, including the requirement for the tenant bill of rights and to establish a complaint database; and would make recommendations regarding the accommodations for families with special needs.

The council would include, among others, representatives from the military services, including enlisted members and spouses, and representatives of advocacy organizations that specialize in military family housing.

“Armed Forces Housing Advocates is thrilled to see a bill in line with our calls for third party oversight of privatized military housing,” said Kate Needham-Cano, executive director of the organization. “As a nonprofit, we continue to advocate that an impartial group of experts would be a common-sense solution to improving living conditions and providing support to the DoD and housing companies to provide safe and habitable housing. Readiness starts with a safe home.”

Similar bills were introduced last year, but didn’t become law.

Under the proposal, the Defense Military Housing Readiness Council would provide annual reports to the secretary of defense and the congressional defense committees with:

♦ Assessments of the adequacy and effectiveness of privatized housing and DoD in meeting the housing needs of military families;

♦ Analyses of tenants’ complaints;

♦ Data on maintenance response time and completion of maintenance requests;

♦ Assessments of dispute resolution processes;

♦ Assessments of overall customer service;

♦ Assessments of results of housing inspections;

♦ Any survey results conducted on behalf of the council or received by the council;

♦ Recommendations on actions to improve privatized military housing.

The council, which would meet twice each year, would include professionals with expertise in state and federal housing standards in the fields of plumbing, electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning; certified home inspections, roofing, structural engineering and window fall prevention and safety.

It would also include individuals appointed by members of Congress, and representatives of professional groups such as the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification, among others.

The assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment would chair the council and would invite a representative of each privatized housing landlord to attend the meeting, as appropriate.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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