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Military housing crisis sparks outreach effort to contact every Marine about living conditions

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller speaks to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Marines and Sailors during a visit to Sigonella, Italy, Dec. 25, 2018. Gen. Neller visited deployed service members in Europe, Southwest Asia, and the Middle East during the holiday season. (Sgt. Olivia G. Ortiz/U.S. Marine Corps)

Almost 7,000 Marines requested that their commanders visit their homes as part of a nearly completed outreach effort to address the U.S. military housing crisis.

The Marine Corps has contacted more than 99% of servicemembers and their families about their housing, the service announced Monday. The effort follows an instruction from Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, to commanders on Feb. 22 to contact servicemembers and their families about their housing, including military and off-base civilian rentals, according to a Marine Corps statement.

“I have instructed commanders to publish policies and take actions to ensure our Marines, sailors, and families have the living accommodations they deserve,” Neller said in the prepared statement. “Ultimately, military family housing is a leadership issue.”

More than 91,300 servicemembers were contacted by their command as of Monday, according to the Marine Corps. Of those Marines, 6,964, or 7.6%, requested a home visit by their command and 7,730, or 8.5%, requested a phone call to “explain the process for resolving their concerns,” the statement reads.

The majority of Marines contacted, 76,139, or 84%, said they did not want additional assistance or a visit by their command for “a variety of reasons,” according to the statement. However, no examples of reasons were provided.

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“Since the program was voluntary, Marines were not required to give a reason for not wanting a member of the command team to visit their residence,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joseph Butterfield wrote in an email.

In February, military families testified on Capitol Hill about unhealthy living conditions in military housing, including mold and rodent infestations, and problems they were having with their privatized military housing companies. A 2018 Reuters investigative story spotlighted horrible conditions faced by some military families and a Military Family Advisory Network survey on military housing in February found that more than half of respondents had a “negative or very negative experience” with the privatized housing.

Senior civilian and military leadership from each service branches were questioned before congressional committees about what was being done to resolve the housing issues raised by the families. Senior military non-commissioned officers and personnel chiefs testified Feb. 27 during a Senate subcommittee hearing that the poor housing conditions were due to a failure in leadership. Military commanders at installations around the world conducted home visits and hosted townhalls to understand the housing conditions of their servicemembers and families.

The Marine Corps said Monday that the outreach accomplished three goals: raising awareness of the living conditions of servicemembers, identifying maintenance or safety issues, and making certain servicemembers and families understood and were aware of processes and programs available to address housing problems.

The home visits that were requested found some of the same concerns that had been identified earlier in the year, such as maintenance not being completed in a timely manner, lack of communication by the private housing company and the Marine Corps to residents, a lack of awareness about existing resolution processes, and dissatisfaction with the housing assignment and acceptance process, according to the Marines statement.

Some of the ways that the Marine Corps is looking to address the issues include having the privatized housing companies maintain a 24-hour hotline for maintenance requests and adding quality assurance personnel to the military housing offices to address the housing assignment and acceptance process, according to the statement. The service is also in the process of scheduling a third-party survey to “further identify housing issues.”

“While the housing visitation program has not been prescribed as a recurring event, commanders are expected to remain involved in the well-being of their Marines, sailors and their families, and to remain available as an advocate on their behalf to address housing issues,” Butterfield wrote in an email.

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