San Diego Union-Tribune: Congressman Mike Levin to introduce military housing oversight bill
By Andrew Dyer
Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, will introduce a bill in Congress Thursday to address reports of poor living conditions at privately-run military housing sites nationwide.
According to a statement, the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, Levin’s first piece of legislation since his November election, would “create stronger oversight mechanisms, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors until issues are resolved and prohibit contractors from charging certain fees.” It would also require the Pentagon to withhold incentives for poorly performing contractors.
“Service members and their families sacrifice to keep our country safe, and we owe them a debt of gratitude,” Levin said in a statement. “The last thing they should have to worry about is housing that jeopardizes their health and safety.”
Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, Katie Hill, a California Democrat and two Virginia Democrats — Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger are co-sponsoring the bill. This is the House’s version of a Senate bill introduced last week by Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.
Levin’s statement cites a November Reuters investigation that found poor conditions at privately-run military housing in several states, including a rodent infestation at Lincoln Military Housing on Camp Pendleton, which is in the congressman’s district.
Among the problems the report found, in addition to rodents and insects, was that military members lacked sufficient tenant’s rights protections.
“It is unacceptable that some military families around the country have little or no recourse when private contractors provide substandard housing,” Levin said.
Jarl Bliss, the president and CEO of Lincoln Military Housing, said the company wanted to make things right.
“We welcome new proposals to strengthen the system and are working with military family advocates and the Navy to ensure that these problems don't happen again,” Bliss said in a statement. “We want to make things right so our service men and women and their families get the quality housing they deserve.”
Military members are paid a monthly Basic Allowance for Housing stipend — tax-free — that varies based on housing costs in their area. For members who live in military housing, this stipend often goes directly to the private provider.
The bill would empower base commanders to withhold payment of this housing stipend until a military housing official inspects and verifies any problems have been fixed. It would also ensure military members would not pay a fee to break on-base leases early.
And it would standardize inspector credentialing across the military services.
The Military Officers Association of America and the National Military Family Association support the legislation, the statement said.