Leadership at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph has announced new measures to rein in Hunt Military Communities, a private housing contractor that manages some 300 homes there.
Military families living on the base have complained about poor housing conditions and bad maintenance by the company. Some 25 households attended a town hall at Fleenor auditorium Thursday, where they voiced their concerns and demanded accountability.
In late October, eight families sued Hunt for damages and mental anguish. They claim they were sickened by mold, vermin and other toxins while living in base housing, and attributed their issues to the company’s "profound neglect, malfeasance and greed."
Some of those involved in the lawsuit gave emotional remarks at the town hall. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Hiatt told base leadership that he needed help getting out of his home—which has a cracked foundation, pervasive mold and sewage issues.
“I live in a house that’s literally killing me. It’s killing my family,” he said. “As a military, we are a family. Please interact, defend us, protect us. This is not the way I want to leave the Air Force.”
Hiatt, who is getting ready to retire from service, asked JBSA Commander Laura Lenderman to “run some interference” and allow his children to remain enrolled at Randolph Independent School District after they manage to move off base.
MaryBeth Pisano, an Air Force spouse, said hers was the third family in three years to move into—and flee—a home plagued by sewage problems. A worker discovered sewage 8 inches deep beneath parts of the home, and an independent mold testing company found that there were 66,000 mold spores per square inch of air.
Pisano said she appreciated base leadership’s efforts to try to resolve her family’s issues with Hunt Military Communities. But, she said, their advocacy hasn’t fixed things.
“Currently, all of my belongings are still in that house,” Pisano said. “I appreciate everyone and all that you guys have tried to do on our behalf....But I feel like there’s a failure, and we are the poster child for that failure.”
An Air Force review this year found that high humidity was one of the main issues facing homes at Randolph, and that air-conditioning systems in those homes allowed it to build up. In response, JBSA and Hunt initiated a dehumidification pilot project in about 16 homes.
At the town hall, residents from 3 of those 16 homes indicated that dehumidification had not worked. JBSA leadership pledged to confirm and document those complaints.
Base officials touted a new, online work-order program called Satisfacts. It allows the Air Force to track when residents file maintenance requests with Hunt—and when they’re completed.
The program has a built-in survey where residents can rate the quality of work that was done.
Richard Trevino of the 502nd Civil Engineering Group said Satisfacts gives the Air Force more oversight over Hunt, which has been accused of neglecting repairs.
"They can't just go out and close work orders as they've done in the past. It now becomes very, very structured."
Base leaders also outlined a plan to follow-up directly with families who rate their experiences less than 3.5 out of 5. Trevino stressed that feedback from residents matters, and should continue.
"Residents will have to put the work orders in and actually comment,” he said. “What we've seen is frustration from residents: 'Why would I comment? Hunt's not going to do anything anyway.' So we continue to encourage residents, because their voice is important. By them providing that feedback, that allows us to engage and become that oversight over Hunt. We can try to improve their situation."
Hunt representatives could not be reached for comment and were not present at the town hall. Afterwards, JBSA Commander Laura Lenderman said Hunt has improved its performance as the base has taken steps to monitor it.
"I think, as we're getting better at this, they're getting better too," she said. "It's a partnership. We're learning as we go."
Lenderman added that families at the town hall had good ideas about ways the Air Force could advocate on their behalf. She also said she looked forward to some of the changes built into the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
The legislation includes a Tenant Bill of Rights guaranteeing “applicable health and environmental standards” for those living in privatized base housing. It also requires the Defense Department to create new standardized assessments to monitor health hazards like mold and lead.
Military housing became privatized in 1996. The military services were authorized to enter into 50-year leases with private developers to own and operate base housing. In recent years, families across the country have complained about conditions—and lawsuits are pending in several states.
Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.