The Army Family Covenant is in its second year, and the promise of committing time and resources to improve quality of life continues.

One way the Army keeps its promise is by building new homes to meet the needs and desires of servicemembers and their families. Thanks to a partnership between Equity Residential and the Army, through the initiative, "Grow the Army," more than 250 homes are being built on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"There was $71 million in funds from the government appropriated in 2008, and the funds were appropriated for essentially just as it says - growing the Army," said Todd Vasko, managing director of Equity Residential, the contractor for privatized housing on the installation.

The Army recognized a need for additional housing on JBLM, and the government responded.
"Equity came in and leveraged that $71 million and put another $39 million of our private debts into the program so we can build the 259 homes we're talking about," Vasko said.

All of the homes will be a part of the "Meriwether Landing" development on JBLM Lewis North. The community will be a mixed ranks neighborhood, housing everyone from junior enlisted to field grade officers.

The initial phase of construction includes 259 homes that will house company- and field-grade officers, senior NCOs and some junior enlisted. The land at the building site is being cleared, with construction to begin next month. The first new homes should be move-in ready by January 2012, with a final completion date of approximately May 2013.

Although not a part of "Grow the Army," Phase II will add 216 homes to the development, all for junior enlisted Soldiers through staff sergeants and their families. Projected completion date for Phase II is 2016.

Vasko said the funding allows Equity not only to build new homes, but to focus on a demand they have not been able to adequately meet with existing inventory relative to officers and command sergeants major. Priority will be given to those ranks currently living on base who wish to upgrade to a new home.

"It's more like a ladder effect," Vasko said. "We're able to take everybody and push them up to better homes because of this."

Recognizing that servicemembers have the option of living on or off post, one of Equity's goals is to match up basic allowance for housing with the appropriate home type and size so that more choose to live on post. Given the amenities planned for Meriwether Landing homes, Branch Chief for the Residential Community Initiative in the Department of Public Works, Nancy Barnes is confident the goal will be met with ease.

"The government is very excited to see this be built and be filled by our families, because the amenities are so much higher than what we've seen in the past," Barnes said.

Amenities will vary with each rank, but all of them will have fenced-in yards, air conditioning and heat pump systems. Many are four bedroom, and the remaining have three bedrooms, helping Equity meet yet another goal.

"Our longest waiting list is in junior enlisted (needing) four bedrooms," Barnes said. "The entire area (in Meriwether Landing) for junior enlisted will have four bedrooms, so we will be able to better meet that demand."

Americans with Disabilities Act compliancy has also been a concern, and Meriwether Landing is going beyond expectations. The minimum requirement is for 10 percent of homes to meet ADA standards, but in the case of Meriwether Landing, 20 percent of homes will be built accordingly.
Other amenities tenants will see include microwaves and hardwood floors for field grade officers and command sergeants major, while junior enlisted will have two-car garages and mudrooms.
With so many attractions on the surface, it can be easy to overlook what Greta Powell, chief of Residential Communities Division, said is one of the most appealing and unique aspects of the new development - that of an all-ranks neighborhood.

"I'm excited to see residents move in and see how that community thrives, because there's so much diversity," Powell said. "This community design provides a lot of great opportunities for people to come together across those boundaries, and I'm just really excited."

Laura M.