Friday, February 22, 2019

Fort Carson's privately managed housing isn't safe, residents say

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2019 at 4:09 PM

click to enlarge Balfour Beatty Communities manages family housing on Fort Carson and 54 other installations. - COURTESY OF FORT CARSON
  • Courtesy of Fort Carson
  • Balfour Beatty Communities manages family housing on Fort Carson and 54 other installations.

As horrors apparently common to privately managed military housing — such as mold, rodents and lead paint — move into the national spotlight, dozens of soldiers and their families who live on Fort Carson seized the opportunity to speak up.

At a town hall Feb. 21, where Garrison Commander Col. Brian Wortinger invited those who live on post to share their concerns, soldiers and their spouses expressed frustration with poor conditions and a maintenance team that took hours, days or weeks to respond to potential safety hazards.

"The biggest problem that my family faces in our house is mice. Mice everywhere. Mice all the time," one woman said, adding that she found evidence of the critters in her son's crib and baby food.

"What are you guys going to do to actually rid our homes of these pests? Because they’re disgusting and a huge safety hazard for our families," she finished to applause.

Fort Carson held the town hall the week after Army Secretary Mark Esper announced that he was "deeply troubled" by reports of "deficient conditions in some of our family housing" and had ordered the Department of the Army Inspector General to look into the problems.

That announcement came the same day witnesses at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing horrified lawmakers with stories of mold, pests, lead paint and resulting health problems. Their stories aren't unique: Survey results released Feb. 13 by the Military Family Advisory Network showed that out of nearly 17,000 respondents, more than half reported a "negative" or "very negative" experience living on military installations.

"Military families are living in dangerous situations with reports of the existence of black
mold, lead paint, faulty wiring, poor water quality, pesticides, and a wide variety of
vermin, insects, and other animals (e.g., bats, skunks, and squirrels) in their homes," the report said. "Families report illnesses with life-long implications caused by poor housing conditions."

The problems are widespread: Survey participants lived in 46 states, in housing managed by 35 different companies. But about half of respondents lived in housing managed by two companies: Lincoln Military Housing and Balfour Beatty Communities, the latter of which counts Fort Carson among the 55 military installations it serves.

At the town hall, representatives of Balfour Beatty were apologetic but offered little variation in their responses to resident complaints, mostly repeating that issues with maintenance and safety shouldn't have occurred, and that the company was changing its procedures to prevent them from recurring. They asked those who raised concerns to speak with them personally after the town hall, and had maintenance teams on hand to address major safety issues that night.

"I agree, sir," said Christy McGrath, Balfour Beatty's community manager, after one man told her it had taken far too long for someone to repair his heater after it stopped working at 3 a.m. one winter night. He wrapped his young children in blankets while waiting for maintenance, which didn't arrive until around noon the next day.

Winter heating outages are classified as "emergencies," McGrath said, and should be addressed within the hour.

"We are putting things in place and bringing in additional resources to make sure that we meet your customer service need in the time frames that we have pushed," she said. "We’re here tonight to hear from you, hear where our blind spots are."

The company plans to hire a residential satisfaction specialist, said Project Director Steve McIntire, and will begin issuing email surveys and following up on work orders to get residents' feedback on services.

The town hall was also streamed on Facebook Live, where it drew hundreds of angry comments.

Col. Wortinger said this meeting would be the first of several addressing immediate problems, and that the garrison would hold them regularly afterwards. Assessment teams will visit neighborhoods in March, he said, to check on potential hazards like asbestos and peeling paint.

Wortinger said that at the request of senior leadership, he would be "personally tracking" health- and safety-related work orders, and asked residents to reach out to him if their issues weren't being solved by Balfour Beatty.

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