During an Army Housing Summit Jan. 14-16, senior Army leaders and privatized company executives met at Army Materiel Command headquarters to review the status of the Army housing portfolio and develop a strategy for long-term improvements across the installation enterprise.
The Army’s seven private housing companies, which have 50-year lease agreements through the Residential Communities Initiative, manage and maintain 87,000 – or 98% – of Army housing at 44 U.S. installations. The Army manages another 13,000 homes and 6,700 Soldier barracks at both U.S. and overseas installations.
“We need to be able to see ourselves, to have oversight of the conditions of our current housing inventory and of our projected inventory,” said Army Materiel Command’s Gen. Gus Perna, the top officer charged by the chief of staff of the Army with responsibility for Army housing.
“This is the first time (since implementation of privatized housing) that we have come together and had this holistic view across all Army installations. We need to drive this to our desired end-state. This is not only about day-to-day living. It’s about what we want our installations to look like in 40 or 50 years.”
The Housing Summit brought Army leadership and RCI company executives together via satellite with installation commanders to review progress and future strategies for housing at about 60 U.S. and overseas installations. The leaders reviewed installation-by-installation, discussing the current condition of housing units, future plans for housing reinvestments, and policies, processes and practices that need to be addressed to ensure the long-term viability of housing. The summit also allowed Army leaders to identify challenges that are trending across multiple locations, such as the cost of maintaining historic housing, fluctuations in Soldiers’ housing allowances and forecasting funding for preventive maintenance as housing units age.
“We need to hold ourselves accountable at all times to the highest standards,” Perna said. “When we do that, then we have maneuverability to be innovative, adaptive and agile.”
The first RCI lease was signed in 1999 at Fort Carson, Colorado. Since then, the Army has looked to private housing companies to manage and maintain housing properties throughout the U.S., but the lack of accountability has led to lower-than-desired housing standards. With many of those leases ending in 35 years, the Army wants to ensure quality housing standards are being implemented at every installation.
Army Materiel Command, under Perna’s direction, took the lead for Army housing in March 2019, when the Installation Management Command became one of AMC’s major subordinate commands. Since then, numerous reforms and improvements have been made, including: quality inspections of 100% of housing units; the establishment of 24/7 housing hotlines at every installation; quarterly resident town halls hosted by installation leadership; mobile apps for residents to submit and track work orders; a revised fee structure for private companies to better account for resident and leadership feedback; regular meetings between Army leadership and company executives; and development of a Resident Bill of Rights expected to be signed later this month; among other reforms.
In July 2019, more than 25,000 residents provided input through the Resident Satisfaction Survey that gave the Army insight into housing experiences and further pinpointed issues that needed to be addressed. In addition, an Army Inspector General report yielded feedback to improve housing. The responsibility to ensure Army housing is safe and secure belongs to AMC, IMCOM and RCI partners, Perna said.
“I believe and have reported to the secretary of defense and the Army chief of staff that we, as a collective group, are moving in the same direction on Army housing and we are executing their guidance, and we will achieve these goals,” Perna told the summit participants. “We are not there yet. But we are moving every day toward that end state.”
At the summit, Perna told the RCI company representatives the Army needs their intellectual knowledge, management expertise, real estate know-how and reinvestment capabilities to ensure the health of Army housing over the long-term.
“As Soldiers, we are trained to go to war and trained to execute war. We are not trained to run or execute an Army housing neighborhood. That’s why we brought this partnership together,” Perna said.
“Whether you are at Wainwright, Polk, Irwin, Belvoir, Hood, Riley or any other installation, the end state is for every installation to be a Soldier and family’s number one choice for where to live. When a Soldier gets orders, we want there to be jubilance because they are convinced they are moving to the best installation. That is our vision, our end state. We have to drive ourselves to this end state.”
Each installation reported both challenges and opportunities. At Fort Riley, Kansas, Garrison Commander Col. Steven Shrader described the installation’s RCI partnership as tremendous and beneficial in regard to reinvestment.
The $60.7 million the RCI company is investing to build 96 junior noncommissioned homes, renovate 32 historic homes, reroof 84 homes, build six new parks and implement energy conservation measures “is something we couldn’t do in the past when housing fell under the Directorate of Public Works because of manning and funding capabilities,” Shrader said.
“Our private partners are playing an absolutely incredible role in achieving the end state of transitioning all our housing to new builds or full renovations,” he said.
Along with trends, Army leaders were made aware of the many installation-specific challenges, as well. With 70% of housing at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, built prior to 1978, Garrison Commander Col. Jeremy Bell said more investments need to be made by its RCI company to build new homes for its junior enlisted population. Redstone Garrison Commander Col. Kelsey Smith, where AMC is headquartered, said sustaining an appropriate level of housing staff is a challenge due to the low unemployment rate in the local community. And at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, more disability compliant housing is needed because of the large number of wounded warriors who receive care at the installation.
“While we have to address individual challenges, we need consistency in policy across all our installations to make Army housing successful,” Perna said.
Leaders will use the briefings from the summit to develop a long-term reinvestment strategy, Perna said.
“We are moving away from a year-to-year strategy. We will develop a long-term plan that will drive towards our end state: quality safe and secure housing at every installation,” he said.