Col. Hollie Martin, garrison commander

Col. Hollie Martin, garrison commander, delivers welcoming remarks at Fort Lee’s Housing Town Hall at Memorial Chapel May 22. The event was streamed live via social media. (Contributed Photo)

FORT LEE, VA. -- While drawing fewer attendees than the first such meeting in February, Fort Lee’s Housing Town Hall May 22 achieved intended goals such as reiterating the importance of speaking up and providing feedback, and reinforcing the command’s commitment to engaging with Hunt Military Communities, its housing partner, to ensure post homes are adequately maintained and managed.

The late-afternoon session in Memorial Chapel also was streamed live via social media, which allowed community members to participate from home, work or elsewhere. While only 10 residents attended the meeting in person, more than 30 tuned into the Facebook Live stream. The accompanying Facebook post reached 4,551 people; netting 906 engagements, 2,700 views, 33 comments and eight shares.

“One of the main reasons we’re here is to focus on health and safety issues and to make sure you feel you’re living in a safe and secure community,” said Col. Hollie J. Martin, Fort Lee garrison commander, in her opening remarks.

The colonel briefly reviewed the chain of events leading up to the day, starting with the mandate for corrective actions from Army leaders after Congressional testimony earlier this year brought numerous military housing health and safety issues to light.

Garrison leaders here created a commander’s hotline (804-734-6300), through which residents can get help if they feel quality of life concerns are not being addressed or their home maintenance needs not being met through the normal work order process. To assess the scope of Fort Lee’s housing issues, a resident town hall was held Feb. 27 (story available at www.fortleetraveller.com). Facilitators at that event agreed to conduct similar sessions quarterly.

A “Housing Services” webpage also was created – home.army.mil/lee/index.php/housing (slides from the May 22 town hall are available there). The installation completed an assessment of housing health and safety concerns, with 42 percent of occupants in 1,474 dwellings accepting the offer to have their homes visited.

“I can assure you that every single leader in the Army is focused on getting this right,” Martin told participants. “We’re on a course of correction that we want to navigate as quickly as we can, which requires constant dialogue with our residents and our housing partners. To get this done, we must work together.”

Foremost among housing issues at Fort Lee are mold in homes, reports of poor customer service, work order responsiveness and follow-up quality assurance checks, and cleaning homes between occupancies.

The command met with Hunt officials immediately after the February town hall to identify courses of corrective action, Martin said. A more aggressive inspection and maintenance plan for HVAC systems was one result of that discussion. Jason Frenz, assistant vice president of Hunt Military Communities, said a home-to-home duct cleaning project is underway. Teams are starting in older neighborhoods – Jackson Circle, Jefferson Terrace, Harrison Villa and Madison Park – and the newer communities will be visited at a later date.

Martin heavily emphasized the importance of completing the annual housing survey as well as providing immediate feedback after the completion of home maintenance and repair work by Hunt technicians. Concerning the latter, she said more than 5,000 work orders were completed in March and April, and only 330 residents provided feedback cards.

“What you don’t tell us is what we don’t know,” Martin observed. “That’s what makes these response mechanisms so important. It helps us hold our housing partners accountable. The (housing) survey also is your opportunity to tell us what you’d like to see in your community. There is some real value to this. I want you to understand how important it is.”

Other key points the commander touched on include the following:

  • The garrison is conducting weekly work order review meetings with the housing partner to ensure jobs are classified correctly and appropriate response times are being met.
  • U.S. Army MEDCOM established a Housing Environmental Health Response Registry (1-800-984-8523) where families can report suspected exposure to mold, air quality or other issues that might affect their life, health or safety.
  • There is a backlog of routine work orders – roughly 2,700 going into June. To “get ahead of it,” the housing partners are prioritizing the work and looking at ways to make “bulk fixes” that increase efficiency and lower costs. Use of the self-help center is encouraged for simple tasks like replacing a light bulb.
  • Garrison hired two housing technicians who will call randomly selected residents after housing work orders are completed to gauge their satisfaction with the service. These technicians also will conduct housing walk-throughs prior to the service member accepting the home. CASCOM is providing three military personnel for the inspection process during peak moving periods.
  • The housing partner is developing an app that will allow residents to complete and track the progress of work orders and provide immediate feedback on the quality of service. The product is in the conceptual stage of development.

During the ensuing Q-and-A portion of the meeting, a Facebook viewer from Fort Hood, Texas, who will soon PCS to Fort Lee wanted to know if air quality checks are performed prior to resident move-in. She is concerned about previous mold issues that have already impacted her children’s health.

A Hunt representative said air quality checks are not a requirement, however, inspectors will look for signs of mold. Maj. Gen. Rodney D. Fogg, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, said the question raised a good point about open communication.

“Bringing this to our attention in advance is the right thing to do,” Fogg said. “That enables us to give heightened sensitivity to a family’s concerns and take steps to alleviate those worries. It’s a great example of letting us go after the issue before it becomes a problem.”

Another resident wanted to know how long the command will continue to track the housing partner’s response to quality of life issues, suggesting that interest would eventually fade and the situation would return to the status quo.

“As the senior commander at Fort Lee,” Fogg responded, “I know I’m obligated to continue this process in coordination with the garrison commander until I depart, and that hopefully won’t be anytime soon. We’re going to keep doing these town halls quarterly with the goal of identifying any further issues. This is going to continue long-term. That is the direction we have been given.”

The next housing town hall is scheduled for Aug. 19. The time and location will be announced through command information channels. Anyone who would like the view the full video of the May 22 meeting can find it at www.facebook.com/ArmyFortLee.