By Margaret ZifferDecember 5, 2019
Throughout 2018 and into 2019, military housing was put under the microscope after Reuters published a series of searing investigative articles replete with allegations of privatized housing company mismanagement. Concerns of military on-post residents were captured in the Military Family Advisory Network's Privatized Military Housing Survey executive summary published in February of 2019, showing that an "alarming" rate (more than 55%) of residents who responded to the survey had a negative or very negative experience with privatized military housing.
Collectively referred to as the "housing crisis," issues discussed in survey results were often life, health, safety concerns - that is, any condition that, if not corrected, may cause harm or injury to a person. Examples of life, health, safety concerns reported include exposure to black mold, lead paint, faulty wiring, poor water quality, pesticides, and a wide variety of vermin and insects in homes.
In response, military leadership world-wide mobilized to identify and correct their installation's local housing issues. Fort Riley was no exception. 2018 Survey results show that Fort Riley residents have a relatively high resident satisfaction rating of 85.6%, exceeding the Army's Residential Community Initiatives partner average satisfaction rate of 80.5%. Still, Fort Riley needed to ensure that the Army, Housing Management Office, and Corvias were meeting their obligations to provide safe, high quality family housing.
Operation Victory Homefront, started in February of 2019, became Fort Riley's initiative to ensure safe and quality housing is provided to Soldiers and families. Over the past 8 months, Operation Victory Homefront has been assessing whether those goals are being met and providing opportunities for the Soldiers and families of Fort Riley to voice issues or concerns that may not have previously been addressed.
Since its inception, Operation Victory Homefront has included nine different initiatives, including the incorporation of maintenance "booties" for Corvias workers to protect the floors of residents' homes during service order calls; the installation of temporary speed bumps to improve the safety of residential neighborhoods; the implementation of a work order tracking system to provide residents with transparency and predictability; the opening of the Corvias Self-Help Kiosk; and the implementation of weekly RCI council meetings focused on reviewing LHS complaints, work order verifications, and quality assurance checks.
The following interview conducted October 10 between the Fort Riley Garrison Public Affairs Office and the Garrison Command Sergeant Major, Andrew Bristow, discusses the remaining four elements of the of Operation Victory Homefront and how Fort Riley leadership and their housing partner, Corvias, are attempting to improve overall quality of life for residents in on-post housing.
USAG PAO: Thank you CSM, for talking to me today about Operation Victory Homefront. I was taking a look at the initiatives that are part of that program, discussed by Col. Shrader (Garrison Commander) at our most recent housing town hall, and they basically had nine major components of the program listed. Obviously, the whole program has command emphasis, but I picked out these four to discuss because they most directly involved garrison leadership. I wanted to hear your thoughts today about those aspects of Operation Victory Homefront specifically, from your perspective as the garrison senior enlisted leader.
Let's start with the Quarterly Town Halls. We already do regular monthly town halls. Why did Fort Riley want to incorporate a town hall specifically for housing?
CSM Bristow: We wanted an opportunity to focus exclusively on housing. We stream it live on Facebook and what we've noticed is that we tend to get more participation and interaction through the live stream than we do with a face to face audience. Participation either way - through the livestream or face to face - is good. At the beginning, at the first town halls we did, there were concerns about utilities and carpet and things like that. Some yard concerns. But not as much anymore. That might be a sign that things are running pretty well here at Fort Riley. We're working - and Corvias is working - to improve the predictability of work orders. They have a Corvias App now, so that's helping. And if it's not, these town halls are venues to let us know that. And also their quarterly sponsorship meetings.
USAG PAO: So it sounds like the goal is to give people multiple different forums to make sure that if they have concerns, they have outlets to address them in an effective way.
CSM Bristow: Right. Absolutely. In addition to those town halls, we have the Army surveys, Corvias surveys. Surveys are so important. That's what's going to help us. It's good to get all kinds of feedback. Let us know what we're doing right, and also what were' doing wrong so that we can try to improve those things.
USAG PAO: Let's talk a little bit more about the Community Sponsorship Program. What is that? How did that idea get going and why did the command see a need for it?
CSM Bristow: The Community Sponsorship Program is a program sponsored by O6 commands. It was the garrison commander and the senior commander who wanted to implement this. The idea was to create a forum for residents to discuss issues outside of the town hall in maybe a more comfortable setting, to bring up issues or concerns they had in the community they live in. There's five housing communities and each one is assigned one of our O6 commands. I think this program does have the capacity to help Fort Riley, however, there's not as much participation in the communities as we would like. But it's there, and it's an available forum to address the needs and concerns of the residents of those communities if they choose to use it.
USAG PAO: So through this program, the garrison feels it is giving people a pathway to address their housing problems, and seeing that people maybe aren't taking advantage of that opportunity as much as you expected. If you were to tell residents why they should participate, what would you say?
CSM Bristow: Well, I look at it this way. Maybe it's a good thing that there's not a lot of participation? That may be a sign that we don't have that many issues here on Fort Riley. I would ask them why they are not coming out. Is it the times, or the locations of the meetings? Is it truly because they don't have any issues? We want to know what we can do to encourage more participation.
USAG PAO: And these meetings don't necessarily have to be focused on discussing problems, correct? The idea is that it's an opportunity for our housing communities to come together to discuss whatever is important to the community.
CSM Bristow: Exactly.
USAG PAO: The next component of Operation Victory Homefront I wanted to talk about is the quality assurance inspections. Corvias and RCI are doing 100% turnover inspections, and the command team is conducting 5% maintenance order checks, and 100% follow-ups with dissatisfied customers.
CSM Bristow: Yes. Col. Shrader and I do those 5% maintenance checks every week. We call to make sure the residents are satisfied with the completion of their work order.
USAG PAO: Are people surprised to hear from you?
CSM Bristow: I think they are. But I think it's a good thing that we do that. I think they are a little bit surprised, but it shows that we care. We're checking up. Whatever feedback they give us, we take, whether it be good or bad. I will say that all of the feedback that I've received has been positive feedback regarding the work orders that I called about.
USAG PAO: A lot of the issues in those Reuters articles were about those LHS concerns at various installations. But here at Fort Riley, it doesn't seem like most of our problems are in that category.
CSM Bristow: Fortunately, we've not had any issues like that here.
USAG PAO: So if not LHS, what kinds of issues do we tend to see here? What's common?
CSM Bristow: We've had HVAC maintenance issues, kitchen appliance maintenance issues, that sort of thing.
USAG PAO: What has your experience been, being more involved with all of this lately? As the Garrison Command Sgt. Maj., do you feel like it's helping things? Has it been rewarding? Eye opening?
CSM Bristow: I enjoy it. I think it shows that we honestly care. If we hear about something, or if we see something posted on social media, or if someone calls, or we have had people come to the garrison headquarters. When we hear about it, Col. Shrader and I will go to those homes that report having issues. We'll look at what the concern is to the resident. We have a great relationship with our partner, Corvias, and we have the resources to fix things that need to be fixed in a timely manner. For me, I feel good about it. And I think that's positive.
USAG PAO: How about housing issues in relation to overall readiness?
CSM Bristow: We want Soldiers to concentrate on their jobs and responsibilities, their training and when they are deployed. We want them to be able to focus on their mission. If they have to worry about their home, it takes away from that.
USAG PAO: Do you have any final thoughts on any of these initiatives?
CSM Bristow: I just want people to know that the command takes all these issues very seriously. We have a very good partnership with Corvias and honestly, we'd just like to see more participation. In the town halls, in the sponsorship meetings, and in the Army's survey. We may not have some of those major LHS issues here, but we can always get better. I think more feedback from our residents can help us get there.