Army housing: Presidio of Monterey housing chief brings Soldier’s perspective

By Winifred BrownJanuary 25, 2022

Army housing: Presidio of Monterey housing chief brings Soldier’s perspective
Oscar Ordonez, head of housing for U.S. Army Garrison Presidio of Monterey, poses for a photo in the conference room in the housing office, Ord Military Community, Calif. (Photo Credit: Winifred Brown) VIEW ORIGINAL

PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (Jan. 25, 2022) – Oscar Ordonez brings a unique perspective to his career in housing at U.S. Army Garrison Presidio of Monterey—he used to live in the installation’s housing as a young enlisted Soldier.

“It helps me understand the mindset of military families,” said Ordonez, who now heads the garrison housing division after 16 years working in housing. “PCSing is tough. I did it a few times myself, so I understand the challenges. I understand that not knowing where you’re going to live is frustrating. So my goal is to always make that process as transparent as possible.”

Ordonez served in the Army for nearly 10 years as an active-duty Soldier, and spent six of them living at the former Fort Ord, now the Ord Military Community. In addition, he brings nearly 20 years of civilian experience at PoM, providing a wealth of knowledge as he heads the team of eight that ensures Monterey Peninsula military personnel have safe, secure housing on post.

His efforts to improve housing have paid off. Jack Poling, head of the PoM Directorate of Public Works, which oversees housing, said the housing division has seen a long list of improvements under Ordonez’s leadership.

Those improvements include a 5.4% increase in overall resident satisfaction in the most recent housing survey, earning the PoM Residential Communities Initiative program an “A List Award” for the first time since 2003, Poling said. The survey showed other significant increases in resident satisfaction with PoM housing as well.

In addition, housing received 40 satisfactory ratings with zero “observations or findings” during the recent Command Inspection Program.

In regard to occupancy rates, in one year they went from an all-time low to a record high of 94%. Also, with 217 “move ins” in one month, the housing team achieved a new record.

On top of that, Ordonez started RCI and Army housing monthly inspection team meetings that resulted in a “best practice” designation and several months of 100% inspection pass rates in key areas, Poling said.

The garrison housing office works in partnership with The Parks at Monterey Bay – Michaels Organization, a private company that owns and operates the housing at PoM. The garrison’s job is to ensure the company provides safe, quality housing. In all, there are 2,400 homes, with another 108 scheduled for completion this year. In addition, the office oversees 22 barracks with more than 2,000 residents and helps personnel with off-post housing.

Ordonez attributes the office’s success to the team, which includes Lucila Bautista, a management analyst; Zina Bennett, an RCI project manager; Inok Antunes, quality assurance manager; Richard Alan, quality assurance manager; Ruby Sutton, housing services manager; and Emilio Espiet, unaccompanied housing manager. One housing management assistant position is vacant.

The entire team works hard and strives for excellence, Ordonez said.

For example, Antunes and Alan inspect every home before a military family moves in and also follow up on every life, health and work safety order, Ordonez said.

“These guys are busting their tails day in and day out,” Ordonez said. “They’re literally on the road the entire day taking care of business in one way or another.”

Also, Sutton’s team has helped incoming residents significantly during the Covid pandemic by providing virtual home tours, Ordonez said.

“They would FaceTime and shoot video and send it to the in-bound families,” Ordonez said. “A lot of times they want to see what they’re moving into before they get here and Ruby and her teammates, they did a great job figuring out how to do it under a tough situation.”

In 2021, Col. Varman Chhoeung, commander of USAG PoM, presented Ordonez with the Army Civilian Service Commendation Medal and recognized him for his exemplary commitment to the Presidio of Monterey.

“Oscar is a humble leader and truly an unsung hero at the housing division,” Chhoeung said. “I want to recognize him for his selfless service and dedication to improving the lives of our residents.”

Poling said that in addition to the specific improvements Ordonez has brought to housing, the experience and expertise he brings to the garrison helps ensure quality housing for Monterey military personnel who live on the installation.

Ordonez is familiar with the housing inventory and its history, and in sharing this information with his staff, he enables them to provide residents with the best housing possible, Poling said. He also knows which approaches to problems have worked in the past.

Also, Ordonez’s hard working and friendly disposition help set the tone for the professional partnership he and his staff have developed with The Parks at Monterey Bay and the Michaels Organization, Poling said.

Terry Watkins, community director for The Parks at Monterey Bay, said she has worked with Ordonez for three years and he continually amazes her with his breadth of knowledge about PoM housing.

“He’s been here for a long time, so the knowledge he has you can’t get anywhere else,” Watkins said. “He’s just full of knowing the history of the project from when it first became privatized housing to now. He knows a lot.”

For example, when a subject such as garbage containers comes up in a meeting, Watkins said she might not know the right questions to ask about the subject, but Ordonez is already familiar with it, so he will present specific information that helps her and others understand.

“You don’t know the questions to ask, but you just listen to him talk, and as he speaks, then you realize how much he knows about every aspect of the installation,” Watkins said.

The rest of the garrison housing team is equally supportive, Watkins said. “They’re very easy to work with and willing to learn together, so I think we have a very good team going on with the Army housing office,” she said. “They communicate with us regularly and we do the same with them.”

Ordonez said the positive changes in military housing since he arrived at the former Fort Ord in 1989 amaze him.

Quality-of-life improvements have included replacing all the street signs, cleaning up playgrounds and neighborhoods and fixing fences, Ordonez said.

In addition, the office has started preleasing housing 60 days before families arrive, Ordonez said, so incoming families have an address before they arrive.

Ordonez, a GS-13, hasn’t always worked in housing. After the Army he worked a while for a private company and then began working at PoM in February 2002 as a GS-4 gate guard. A little more than a year later he became a GS-6 PoM police officer and then soon received another promotion.

“While I was a police officer I went to SWAT school; I went to SWAT team leader school,” Ordonez said. “I was trying to do everything I could just to continue moving up. When the contracted guard program came around, that got me another promotion to GS-7. Slowly but surely it was happening.”

Then, in 2005, Ordonez heard about an opening in housing.

“I knew the people who were running it from years ago when I was active duty, so I applied and the chief at the time, Pat Kelly, gave me a chance,” Ordonez said. “He helped me get my foot in the door and gave me the opportunity. The rest is history, as they say.”

Ordonez worked his way up in housing from an entry-level, GS-7 resident liaison position. He received a promotion to GS-9 almost exactly a year after he started in 2006; a promotion to GS-11 less than a year later; a promotion to GS-12 two years later; and then a promotion to GS-13 10 years later.

Ordonez said his ongoing career in housing has been fun and interesting and he considers himself fortunate.

“I remember what it was like to come in as a junior enlisted family and live in a house where it’s drafty— the water heater was in our kitchen,” Ordonez said. “A lot has changed since then and I think the biggest satisfaction for me is that I get to be part of that.”