Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – A new bill of rights for tenants of U.S. military housing, as well as the responsibilities of the tenants themselves in properly caring for their homes, were among topics of an online housing town hall meeting here July 27.
"You have a role as a resident, right?" Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning told the audience at the start of the town hall. He assumed command here July 17.
"We'd ask ya, care for your house like you bought it," he said. "Care for your house as if you're gonna own that house for the rest of your adult life."
The town hall included a panel of Fort Benning housing officials, and was hosted by Col. Matthew Scalia, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning.
The panel also replied to questions sent in by Fort Benning residents on topics that included, among others, the best way to use air conditioning systems, a backlog in work orders, and requirements for those moving out of a home.
Fort Benning has more than 4,000 Family homes, which The Villages of Benning, a private company, manages day to day in partnership with the Army.
Early in his remarks, Donahoe noted that the quality of military housing is a key concern of Army families.
"'How's my housing? How are the schools for my children? And how is the medical care for me and my Family?'" are the three questions they're "habitually" concerned with, said Donahoe.
In recent years more than $35 million has been put toward improving housing here, and officials continue to focus on combating mold problems and otherwise caring for Fort Benning's homes.
But part of that effort includes the right actions of residents, Donahoe said.
"I would ask ya, report problems that you can't fix yourself and then remain engaged with the garrison" and The Villages of Benning "to ensure that we get those fixed.
"And then if they're not responsive, we got multiple avenues for you to communicate that back to the leadership," he said. "Your own leadership at the tactical level, but to the garrison, and then to the command. And you're always welcome to send me your cards and letters and we will get after that as best we can."
Panel members said Fort Benning residents were sent copies of the new Privatized Housing Tenant Bill of Rights, which was signed May 1 by Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper after it was endorsed by the civilian-appointed leaders of each military branch.
"Read through it and make sure you understand your rights, as we work to make sure that the housing here at Benning is world class," Donahoe said.
Proper care of air conditioning is a "number one" housing issue at Fort Benning currently, Scalia said.
Heather Bearden, assistant community director for The Villages, offered residents several tips on proper care of their air conditioning systems.
They include changing air filters at least once a month and if pets are in the home, at least twice a month.
"In addition to that, we recommend that you do not set your thermostat below 72 degrees or above 75 degrees," she said. "This is going to prevent mold growth and help to maintain the proper humidity within your home.
"We also advise you not to run your AC unit when you have your windows open or doors," said Bearden. And residents should "run the vents in the bathrooms to have ventilation when water is running," she said.
A news article with those and other tips on air conditioning was published recently by the MCoE and Fort Benning Public Affairs Office.
"We are proactively working on some additional things to prolong the life span of our HVAC units," said Bearden. "We are actually in the process of hiring two HVAC technicians. And we are also entering into a contract with an outside organization to have preventative maintenance scheduled on all HVAC units over the course of the year."
The panel was also asked about the expected timetable for action on maintenance work orders.
The Villages has three categories of work orders, Bearden said: emergency, urgent and then standard.
"For emergency work orders, our goal is a 60-minute response time and we will work until the issue is completed," she said. "An example of this would be if your AC unit stopped working and the temperature is above 80 degrees outside.
"For an urgent work order, the standard response time, the response goal, is eight hours, and we have a response, we work to complete it within 48 hours," said Bearden. "An example of this would be if you identify mold or mildew in your home.
"Now our standard work orders, the goal is 72 hours," she said. "Obviously, we are not meeting that goal right now. We are doing everything that we can to get back to it. We are currently actively working on hiring additional staff members. We received approval to hire additional positions."
Those with questions on "a specific work order pertaining to your home," said Bearden, should contact their village management office directly or call the maintenance hotline at: 706-685-3929.
Panelists also answered a question on what condition residents are expected to leave their homes when moving out.
"So the expectation for you to leave your home is to leave it in the same condition as you received it when you first moved in, which is the same exactly at all of the other bases," said Denise Bleiler, The Villages' regional property manager.
"We are working on a checklist of items to help people know what needs to be addressed, prior to you moving out, which we expect to have over the next couple of weeks," Bleiler said.
"We are also working on a video that will be provided to all residents, when you first move in, and when you give us your notice to vacate, so that we can also set the expectation that way as well," Bleiler said. "We expect to have that again in the next couple of weeks as well."
Besides contacting The Villages of Benning with housing concerns, residents can also contact the garrison's housing authorities, said Keith R. Lovejoy, Housing Division chief with USAG Fort Benning's Directorate of Public Works (DPW).
Tenants can contact the office "if you have any issues whatsoever," for help from him, his assistant and the office's government liaison. The three are the Army's tenant advocates at Fort Benning, he said.
The phone numbers are: 706-545-8119/9611/3803.
"All of us are former military," said Lovejoy. "All of us have Family members that are former military... And we are out there to be your advocates.
"Please, reach out to us or any one of these contacts," he said, "and we will make sure that we push your information to the right people, and the right people are identified, and we follow through to fix your issues."
In closing the town hall, Scalia too highlighted the new Tenant Bill of Rights.
"Yesterday you would have received the Bill of Rights from the garrison Housing Office and this has been an effort ongoing for the past year, year plus," he said. It was the outgrowth of effort by Congress, the Department of Defense, and "all the various housing partners across all military installations in the country," he said.
"Review what your rights are, what your expectations are," he said. "And if you feel they're not being addressed, that's what we have the garrison housing office for."
Echoing a point made at the start of the town hall, Scalia said quality housing also entailed "some responsibilities listed to us as residents. So it's not just rights but it's responsibilities, as this is a relationship, and it requires cooperation from both ends. Please be familiar with those responsibilities as well.
"General Donahoe stated upfront, this is about treating the home as if you owned it," said Scalia. "It'll make your experience better and it'll make the experience of those who move in behind you better as well. And you should hope that in your next home, the previous residents have done the same for you."