By Keith PannellSeptember 17, 2019
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz senior leaders have been working hard to get housing residents answers and solutions since the Army-wide housing crisis hit the news in February.
"We're lucky here in Rheinland-Pfalz. I don't believe we have a crisis," said Greg Williams, Directorate of Public Works director. "Make no mistake, we have issues we work on every day, but we don't have a housing-wide crisis."
Much of the housing consternation is specific to privatized or leased housing through contractors in the United States, whereas that type of housing option is not typically an overseas function, nor available within the garrison here. However, as Williams noted, that doesn't mean housing concerns are non-existent and given the age of many of the buildings - both office and residential - there are continuing issues with maintenance and repair of facilities, from water pipes to unit sizes smaller than comparable U.S. standards.
The garrison team has put a premium focus on these issues with ongoing upgrades to the pipe systems and securing funding for near-term development and construction of new housing. In addition, projects are moving forward to renovate existing quarters to increase space; for example, modernizing the design of buildings to reduce stairwell units from 18 to 12 by adding square footage to the units.
"The bottom line is that we have an enduring obligation to take care of our people," said Col. Jason Edwards, USAG Rheinland-Pfalz Commander. "Soldiers and families in installation housing have a right to safe, clean and healthy homes, and with their feedback, we are identifying and fixing problems to provide the quality of life that is commensurate to their service to our nation."
The commander emphasized that Soldiers and families are encouraged to use existing reporting systems to request maintenance of their homes and they are also encouraged to bring any issue to their installation leadership and the chain of command.
"There will be absolutely no reprisals for reporting," Edwards said. "We want to hear the concerns of our community so we can ensure they are properly addressed. I very much appreciate the feedback that we have received and the opportunity to address those concerns."
To that end, since February, the garrison has:
- Held two town halls, one each in the Kaiserslautern Military Community and in Baumholder.
- Held a virtual town hall and answered as many questions as time allowed followed by answers to more than 60 questions posted on social media.
- Added environmental information to the garrison website including information and test results of radon tests and information on legionella, lead, mold prevention and water quality.
- Revamped its' Water Quality Task Force established last fall to include housing resident and barracks representatives to give voice to the segment of the population directly affected.
- Established a 24-hour Commander's Housing Hotline (0611-143-541-3032) for issues that have not been resolved in a timely manner after submitting a housing work order.
- Placed a link to housing work orders and Commander's Hotline to the front page of the garrison website (https://home.army.mil/rheinland-pfalz/)
- Conducted 100% life, health and safety visits to all of the garrison housing units and barracks.
- Hosted media coverage through Stars and Stripes Europe and the American Forces Network to meet with the garrison commander and his housing team to answer questions.
- Provided a briefing and tour of family housing to highlight higher-level support needed to the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.
- Completed construction and opened 84 new townhomes on Baumholder's Smith Barracks.
- Made plans to begin 72 new housing units in Wetzel housing in 2020.
- Produced a military family housing walk-through video for social media and website showing community housing, addressing tenant concerns and providing education on overseas living differences.
Harald Kastner, Garrison Chief of Housing said one of the biggest education challenges is letting housing and barracks residents know that there are differences to living in Germany that they may not be used to from living in the United States.
"We have to open a window after a hot shower (as a deterrent to mold)," Kastner said. "German pipes are old and if we don't use a faucet for a while, it might run discolored at first, but it clears up. Once you get used to doing certain things, you'll find many of these issues go away."
Both Williams and Kastner also want to make it clear they have an open door policy. They invite any resident to come to their office or give them a call any time to discuss any housing issue.
Greg Williams can be reached at 0611-143-541-4000 or DSN 541-4000.
Harald Kastner can be reached at 0611-143-531-2970 or DSN 531-2970.
The next virtual town hall for housing concerns is Sept. 25 at 11 a.m. to be livestreamed via the garrison Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/army.rp/