JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – When Col. Paul Filcek took command of the 72nd Air Base Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, in June 2019, privatized housing was at the top of his priority list.
It was a daunting challenge. Some of Tinker’s privatized housing residents had raised concerns about maintenance, safety and health issues involving some of the installation’s 660 homes. Privatized housing residents at other Air Force installations had similar complaints, and program leaders at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center in San Antonio, Texas, were in the middle of a sweeping analysis to identify problems and develop solutions.
For Filcek, one solution was obvious: commanders had to be more involved with their housing programs and accessible to housing residents.
“I started the job intensely engaged from the get go,” Filcek said. “The Air Force Civil Engineer Center and the Secretary of the Air Force made much needed clarifications to policy and engaged with project owners enabling the chain of command to exercise authorities to take care of their people.”
Based on the Air Force analysis and inputs from more than 45,000 residents, the Air Force launched an enterprise-wide effort to improve the privatized housing program in 2019. Led by AFCEC, the center managing Air Force housing programs, the effort includes more than 50 specific initiatives, including several aimed at better integrating installation commanders in the program:
-- Solidifying commander responsibilities to better engrain them in the housing program to be able to better assist residents and effect positive change in their installation housing program;
-- Increasing installation commander input in the process for awarding performance incentive fees to project owners;
-- Including the commander in the dispute resolution process for resolving concerns between residents and project owners;
-- Formalizing commander role in management review committees;
-- Establishing reporting processes to ensure installation commanders are aware of health and safety work orders, and processes to elevate concerns to major command or numbered Air Force senior leaders;
-- Educating commanders and support staff on the housing privatization program and their responsibilities.
“We are engaging installation commanders to ensure they recognize their role to be at the forefront of the privatized housing improvement program,” said Col. Sara Deaver, AFCEC Housing Program chief. “It is vital to the success of the housing program that installation commanders build and maintain strong working relationships with project owners, military housing office professionals and residents.”
In his first 100 days on the job, Filcek dedicated a large portion of each day solely to privatized housing. He faced issues ranging from life, health and safety work orders to resident trust issues with the project owner. He worked closely with AFCEC and integrated the installation housing staff and resident council to focus on resident needs.
“We had to make the resident our true north,” said Filcek. “These initiatives are going to take time to take root, these relationships need to be mended and residents need to know they have a voice.”
To help keep focus on residents, the Air Force is expanding communication with residents and families, Deaver said. Commanders are actively engaging with residents and families in public meetings, such as town halls, and through newly established Resident Councils.
“The Air Force Civil Engineer Center is bridging the connection between project owners and commanders to foster better relationships,” Deaver said.
“All of these initiatives pull together the key players and decision makers so resident issues can be brought to the right people, with the right tools to resolve them thoroughly and in a timely manner,” said Deaver. “This ensures the whole team -- chain of command, Military Housing Office and project owner -- are actively engaged together on behalf of the residents.”
To support commanders, the Air Force has committed an additional 218 positions to the housing enterprise in 2020 to ensure commanders have the personnel resources to implement the program’s changes and support residents with housing needs. As of Aug. 4, 161 of the 218 housing professionals were onboarded across the Air Force.
Additionally, AFCEC implemented a series of virtual training events to educate professional housing staff enterprise-wide who are ready to serve Airmen and their families, and Headquarters Air Force recently issued a new housing instruction to guide commanders, housing staff and program managers.
The Air Force is already seeing results.
At Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Deputy Joint Base Commander and 647th Air Base Group Commander Col. Tammie Harris is responsible for the health and welfare of residents of the installation’s housing communities. There are two housing partners on JBPHH with a combined inventory of over 6,000 homes. Harris said increased engagement with residents and strengthened relationships with project owners has helped resolve resident issues and build trust in the community.
For example, personal leadership involvement recently helped solve a pest issue for a couple who was ready to drop off the keys and walk away from the housing program.
The resident had submitted work orders but the problem worsened instead of being resolved. The family were resolved to move out at the end of their lease, until Harris and her team intervened.
“I brought the right people together in the home to look at the issue and determine the best solution. After we resolved the concern, the residents signed a new lease and are happy in their home,” Harris said.
Harris and her staff are steadfast in protecting residents and are guided by the core value -- approaching issues as a team effort is at the heart of resolving them. Being available to residents and supporting their needs guides everything her team does to improve the housing program.
“I believe housing is a commander’s responsibility, and I personally am committed to conducting in-home visits and actively working issues on behalf of residents,” Harris said. “Leadership engagement ensures accountability and responsibility across all parties.”
At Tinker, Filcek believes the hard work is paying off. He attributes success to the Tinker housing team, partnering with AFCEC, and a commitment to residents. While the initiatives will help better manage the program, the commander has the most important tool -- engagement.
“Everything starts with sincerely caring,” Filcek said. “Commanders have to be engaged and be relentless in it. With residents as our true north, we have made exceptional progress, but we still have a mountain to climb. We won’t stop, not for one day, until we get to where we need to be.”