Navy Times: Lawmaker, families pleased with home repairs
Mar 13, 2012 -
By William H. McMichael
The Quintela home in the Sandpiper Crescent Navy housing area in Virginia Beach, Va., is once again livable.
It took a wave of negative publicity to get it fixed. But the Navy and Lincoln Military Housing, which manages Sandpiper Crescent and 4,380 other military homes in the Hampton Roads region for the Navy, say they are well on their way toward revamping lax maintenance practices that allowed water-leak and mold problems to fester in the Quintela and other Navy family homes.
“They are trying — I will give them that,” said Reneé Quintela, wife of Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Adam Quintela of Amphibious Construction Battalion 2. “At least in our community here.
“For Sandpiper Crescent and the Little Creek area, they are trying really hard to improve.”
The congressman who pressed hardest to ease his constituents’ concerns sees more widespread improvement.
“This clearly has the full and I think proper level of attention from senior Navy leadership,” said Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va. “I’m convinced of that.”
But, he added, “That’s been a process for me to come to that conclusion ... over a period of time. There certainly was cause for concern, and action.”
A 1996 law launched the public-private venture initiative under which private firms finance and maintain military family housing. Lincoln has managed Navy homes in the Mid-Atlantic region since 2005 and has developed and managed more than 31,000 military homes nationwide since 2001. Military family housing offices that formerly managed all aspects of family housing are supposed to provide oversight and mediate problems.
The effectiveness of that relationship came under scrutiny last fall, when reports by a Norfolk TV station revealed serious water-leak and mold issues in homes where families said their complaints had either been ignored or poorly resolved, often with shoddy workmanship.
Enter Rigell, who in short order was visiting the affected homes and, along with two other Virginia lawmakers, pressuring Navy officials to fix the problems, particularly those related to mold infestations that some maintained were causing or exacerbating health problems.
On the right path
A bit more than two months after the problems came to light, and after hosting town hall-style events and meeting repeatedly with Mid-Atlantic commander Rear Adm. Tim Alexander and other officials — most recently in mid-February — Rigell lauds their efforts.
“It’s really a comprehensive set of actions that they’ve taken,” Rigell said. “The good news at this point is, they are not statements of what will be done. They’re statements of what is being done or what has been done. … And I was really encouraged by it.”
The Navy has taken several simple steps to do so. One is the dispersal of Mid-Atlantic Navy family housing representatives, until now centrally located at Naval Station Norfolk, into offices near family housing offices “so they’re boots on the ground, walking the neighborhoods, they’re accessible by the residents,” Alexander said.
Secondly, the region has appointed a senior enlisted sailor in each housing area as someone residents can go to if their home’s problems are not being taken care of.
Alexander said he has also reinforced the relationship between the neighborhoods and installations “so that our base COs, XOs, command master chiefs and family housing staff know their neighborhoods; the neighborhoods know who my leadership teams are on the ground, so that we’re accessible.”
Sailors who don’t get problems resolved should go to their command master chief. Once that’s done, said the region’s Command Master Chief (SW/AW) John Fuston, “that can filter up the chain of command and get to us.”
Perhaps most importantly, Mid-Atlantic Region is “in the process” of gaining “unfettered and direct access” to Lincoln’s maintenance database, Alexander said. “That will give us the opportunity to do an independent follow-up and verification of the type of maintenance and the customer service that our partners provide,” he said.
The initiative also is serving as a test bed for wider application — an encouraging development for families living elsewhere in Navy Installation Command housing who experience maintenance frustrations.
“I think, once we try it out, we’ll see Navy CNIC, across the enterprise, move to adopt something similar to give all of our Navy family housing and partners greater visibility in the maintenance of our homes,” Alexander said.
Lincoln also has taken steps in its efforts to “rebuild the trust in all phases of our organization,” said Jarl Bliss, president of Lincoln Military Housing.
“We’ve made some significant changes in our staffing,” Bliss said. “Some folks are not with us now. But we’ve also looked inside our organization to provide additional resources for the families, additional touch points, so they feel comfortable coming to us with issues and know that they’ll be taken care of in a timely fashion. And correctly.”
When the news broke, Lincoln announced an eight-point plan that included a promise that teams from a Lincoln-Navy task force would visit every home in the Mid-Atlantic region. As of March 7, teams had visited 3,112 homes and made contact with nearly all the rest — most of which are inside installations. Hundreds of mold inspections have been or will be conducted, Bliss said.
Reneé Quintela now says the situation has gotten better. In addition to the major repairs — “they’ve done a ton of things around the house to make it more like a home now, instead of something falling apart around me,” she said.
“They’ve gotten a few really good guys that have come in and done some of the smaller things in the house, like replacing my ceiling fan. They’ve been great. We only had problems with one guy. And I don’t think he’s here any more.”