WASHINGTON -- The Army continues to focus on quality housing for Soldiers and their families with additional rights for tenants to roll out next month and privatized companies expected to earmark nearly $3 billion to improve housing over the next five years, a senior official said Monday.
The Army's people, readiness and modernization priorities will guide these new improvements as well as others across its 156 installations and more than 1,100 National Guard or Reserve centers, said J. E. Surash, the acting assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.
Together, the three priorities can enhance the quality of life for all Soldiers, families, and civilians, Surash said before the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies.
Last year, the Army created the Quality of Life Task Force to deliver across five lines of effort in support of the Army's top priority -- people, said Lt. Gen. Jason T. Evans, deputy chief of staff of the Army, G-9.
Those efforts include housing and barracks, health care, child care, spouse employment, and permanent change of station moves.
"Housing has been a key focus area. Our Soldiers and their families deserve high quality and safe housing," Surash said. "The privatized housing companies are spending $1.5 billion and reinvesting another $1.3 billion for housing improvements over the next five years."
Along with housing, the Army has implemented 14 of the 18 tenant bill of rights provisions. The four additional requirements are on track for integration in early June, Surash said.
The added provisions will provide standard lease documents for all tenants, a proper dispute resolution process, a means to withhold rent during a dispute, and access to a seven-year maintenance history for each unit, leaders said in their written testimony.
Lawmakers also expressed concerns over the long wait times some Soldiers and families face when moving to an installation.
The Army's on-post housing inventory only accommodates an average of 30-35% of Soldiers assigned to a post, with the remaining living in off-post communities, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston.
"We actually want our Soldiers and families to live on our installations, but because we don't have enough family housing on every installation, those wait times vary," Grinston said, adding that it is a Soldier's choice to live on post.
The Army primarily relies on the private sector for on-post housing and its quantity is determined on the requirement to house Soldiers assigned to key and essential positions as well as fulfill any shortfall in available, adequate housing in the local market.
The Army and its housing partners have been working to upgrade on-post housing units, including the renovation of older homes to remove lead-based paint, Grinston added. Further, the force has increased the number of housing inspectors to improve quality assurance and streamline the PCS process.
The Army has already invested $2.1 billion toward the construction, restoration, and modernization of barracks over the past three years, Surash said. More than $10 billion have also been allocated to improve active, Guard and Reserve barracks facilities over the next decade.
The future investment will eliminate poor and failing barracks by 2036, while the Army Barracks Management Program will deliver a uniform standard for all facilities moving forward, the testimony read.
In addition, the Army has also accelerated funding for three child development centers -- two large CDCs in Hawaii and another in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Evans said.
The new facilities can each support close to 340 children, which will add up to about 1,000 extra spaces for the Army Child and Youth Services program. The three facilities are currently under various stages of development by the Army Corps of Engineers and are expected to open by mid-fiscal year 2023, CYS program officials said.
Moreover, the Army will work with lawmakers to conduct a construction pilot program outlined in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, the testimony read. The pilot will authorize $27 million from fiscal 2020 to help build one or more CDC projects.
"We're also taking immediate steps to expand family child care homes on-post and provide fee assistance to help in locations where families need on-post care options,” Evans said.
Adequate and sustained funding will help the Army construct 21 additional CDCs over the next decade and add close to 4,000 new child care providers, Evans said.
"Army readiness begins with our installations," Surash said. "Through adaption, mitigation, and innovation, the Army will work to secure the readiness and resilience of forces, functions, and facilities."