JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – The Department of the Air Force's effort to improve housing programs for Airmen, Guardians and their families scored some major victories in 2020, but housing officials say there is still much work to be done.
Armed with feedback from housing residents, leaders and project owners, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s housing programs branch set out to implement 51 housing improvement initiatives. To date, housing officials at AFCEC and across the Air and Space Forces have completed all but four of the initiatives, addressed more than 5,200 resident concerns and leveraged $32 million to hire an additional 218 housing support staff.
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center, a primary subordinate unit of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, manages the housing program across the enterprise.
“We went into 2020 with 51 initiatives and one major goal: ensure our Airmen, Guardians and their families have access to safe, healthy housing,” said Robert Moriarty, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations. “We are proud of the strides we’ve made, but we have more to do, and we are always seeking to improve our programs and the quality of our housing.”
The most significant improvements were focused on empowering residents with more input and more support to communicate and resolve concerns, said Col. Sara Deaver, AFCEC chief of housing programs.
“Maintaining relationships and having reliable feedback channels is integral to ensuring the well-being of our Airmen and Guardians,” Deaver said. “Our first priority was making sure residents of our housing programs are heard loud and clear. We are focused on ensuring they have channels to pursue issues and qualified local experts they can turn to for assistance.”
Key initiatives focused on empowering residents, Deaver said, and included the development of a tenant bill of rights, creation and staffing of resident advocates, increased staffing at installation military housing offices, and revision of the annual Department of Defense Tenant Satisfaction Survey.
In February, the Department of the Air Force joined the other services in signing the joint bill of rights outlining 18 basic rights for housing tenants. The rights include comprehensive lease briefings, protection from inadequate housing standards, and accessibility to military legal assistance and accountability for prompt maintenance repairs.
All but four of these rights have been accepted and implemented by project owners and the Air and Space Forces are working with DOD officials and project owners to implement the four remaining rights in 2021, Deaver said. They include a universal lease, resident access to a maintenance background report, formal dispute resolution process and process for segregating rent pending the outcome of a dispute resolution.
The annual tenant satisfaction survey has existed since the inception of the privatized housing program, but was revamped in 2020 to bring it under the ownership of the Air Force to ensure it is independent and accurately gathers the concerns of residents.
The Air Force-funded survey recently closed and received a response rate of slightly over 30 percent. The data collected from the anonymous survey feedback will help the Air Force ensure each program allocates funds to properly address resident issues.
“A comprehensive, standardized survey is essential in restructuring the housing program,” said Yvonne Brabham, Air Force Housing Division technical director. “The changes we make are guided by the personal experience of the residents.”
In 2020, the Air Force filled 213 of 218 new installation housing support staff positions to improve resident experience and open clear communication channels between Airmen, Guardians and military housing offices at the installation level. Of these new hires, 58 are resident advocates, 145 are military housing office positions and 10 are supporting headquarters oversight functions.
“We are most excited about our resident advocates,” Brabham said. “These professionals regularly interact with tenants, resolve housing issues, educate their peers and connect residents to on-base resources. Resident advocates are working with base management to establish resident councils, allowing occupants to raise housing concerns directly to installation leadership.”
In 2021, the focus is on accomplishing more initiatives in the improvement plan, Deaver said. Milestones include signing additional tenant rights into action, more hiring to augment housing support staffs and refining housing management processes to ensure residents and installation leaders have influence in housing issues.
“AFCEC is looking to build on 2020’s successes. We have cleared some major milestones on this improvement journey,” Deaver said “I believe residents are seeing the benefit of these efforts and that’s what really matters.”