More than the basics: Commemorating 20 years of housing privatization

  • Published
  • By Breanne Smith
  • AFCEC Public Affairs
When Master Sgt. Meloney Natal and her children prepared for a permanent change of station to Hurlburt Field, Florida, in May 2015, the search for a home led Natal to Corvias Military Living.

The safety, customer service and strong sense of military community is what sold Natal on military privatized housing.

"The Corvias team has been great to us," Natal said. "Anytime I need anything, when it comes to setting up the house or anything is going wrong, they are there fixing it within that day."

2016 marks 20 years since Congress passed the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, giving the military authority to use private sector expertise and funding to eliminate inadequate housing and improve the quality of life for service members and their families. 

Before privatization, the Air Force estimates 50 percent of its housing inventory fell below established Air Force housing standards. The privatization program the Air Force developed and improved over the next two decades established a higher standard of living for Air Force families.

Centrally managed out of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the program currently boasts an overall resident satisfaction rating of "very good"-- rising two service levels over the past decade as more privatized projects renovated or built new homes.

"Resident satisfaction is the prime indicator of program success," said Robert Moriarty, AFCEC's Installations Director. "The program centers on providing quality customer service and building thriving communities."

The directorate's program execution office accomplishes this by working closely with installations and their respective project owner partners, Moriarty said.

Two decades, $8.3 billion and 53,240 homes later, the Air Force is 100 units away from privatizing 100 percent of family housing for contiguous U.S. bases, Alaska and Hawaii.

Back in 1996, Chad Gemeinhardt was a senior graduating from Bitburg American High School in Germany, where his father commanded the 52nd Security Forces Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base. That summer, as the Air Force began planning a trial project, Gemeinhardt headed to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship in civil engineering.

With plenty of Air Force housing experience already under his belt due to his father's service, Gemeinhardt had plenty more to come.

Today, Gemeinhardt commands the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. As the base CE, Gemeinhardt works with AFCEC and the PO, Lend Lease (US) Public Partnerships, to ensure Airmen in privatized homes are properly cared for and the project remains viable.

"Privatization has been huge in providing higher-level housing, and better-quality housing, for our residents and military residents across the Air Force," Gemeinhardt said.

Peterson boasts one of the strongest projects in the Air Force. In addition to sound financials, the base also received the highest resident satisfaction score for 2015, rating "exceptional."

In addition to improving the quality of homes and customer service, privatization also positively impacts the Space Command mission, Gemeinhardt said. By divesting the Air Force of maintenance and day-to-day housing operation responsibilities, base leaders are able to remain mission-focused while still retaining program oversight.

"Good customer service means taking good care of our residents and making sure we're providing them with the best place we possibly can for them to live," said Jerry Schmitz, senior vice president and general manager for Lend Lease - the PO for six installations, including Peterson, within the Air Force housing portfolio.

Facing deployments and extended separation from family, the military family situation is unique and requires specialized service, Schmitz said.

"We provide service to our residents 24/7 for any of the maintenance needs they have in their homes," he said. "We partner with the local command to make sure that we have programs for our residents that they can enjoy. We partner with the support services group and provide community activities, events and several programs that help the military families."

One such program is the Honey-Do Coupon Program offered by Corvias. The coupons allow residents to cash in time for non-routine maintenance assistance around the house.

"The honey-do coupons are amazing," Natal said. "I'm active duty, I'm a single mom, and sometimes there's just some things that I don't have ... I can't get done and I've placed in a 'honey-do.'"

From putting up curtains and hanging pictures, to landscaping and pest control, maintenance support alleviates a lot of stress and worry for her, she said.

While home design and layout, programs, amenities and services vary base-to-base, Moriarty said privatization ensures quality living is standard and Airmen have a choice -- the crux of the program.

"The connection between resident satisfaction and occupancy encourages our private-sector partners to provide quality service," Moriarty said.

As the heart of the Air Force mission, Airmen deserve the best housing experience the program can deliver, he said.

"We are a demanding customer, and we'll continue to be a demanding customer, as we advocate for our Airmen now and in the future," he added.