Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer speaks to sailors aboard the USS Gabrielle Giffords. Photo by Chris Stone

Stung by reports of poor privatized housing elsewhere, the Navy is asking San Diego sailors what they think of their current nongovernmental digs.

Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson has ordered an “out of cycle” housing survey amid complaints about substandard privatized housing across the military branches.

The survey, starting Tuesday and ending April 30, will be conducted by Los Angeles-based CEL & Associates, an independent third party.

“What makes the survey unique is that it is being conducted on behalf of the Navy, which is different than past annual surveys that were conducted on behalf of the five companies that provide Navy privatized housing,” the Navy said.

The aim is to determine residents’ overall satisfaction with privatized housing, including health and safety concerns.

In mid-February, the Military Family Advisory Network released a 34-page report on its weeklong survey of 16,779 people in military housing. Of those, 14,558 live in housing managed by a private company.

“The sheer number of questionnaire respondents is astounding,” said the report. “While 44.7% of respondents responded neutrally or favorably, [the] 55.53% dissatisfaction rate is alarming.”

The advisory network said military families were living in “dangerous situations with reports of the existence of black mold, lead paint, faulty wiring, poor water quality, pesticides and a wide variety of vermin, insects and other animals (bats, skunks and squirrels) in their homes.”

In addition, the report said:

  • Families report illnesses with life-long implications caused by poor housing conditions.
  • Respondents file reports and request remediation, but are often denied or ignored.
  • Families report attempts by housing company representatives and sometimes, military
    command to silence their complaints and several report receiving threats.
  • Many fear retribution or negative impacts on their service members’ military career.
  • And families have little or no recourse. Rent cannot be withheld for poor condition,
    mismanagement, or noncompliance with lease terms.

In this month’s survey, sailors will be able to note their likes and dislikes about privatized housing, concerns they may have regarding their homes, community and services provided by the privatized housing management companies as well as overall satisfaction.

Sailors in privatized housing will receive a letter providing details on how to access the survey, the Navy says. (Much of San Diego’s Navy housing is privatized, a spokesman said.)

“In light of issues recently raised by service members and families, the Navy has also conducted town hall meetings and ‘walk troughs’ where residents volunteer to have leadership check out their houses,” said a Navy statement. “In addition, the Navy is working with housing partners to ensure maintenance and repairs are conducted and other issues are addressed.”

The Navy is conducting another survey (April 2 to June 20) for sailors living in unaccompanied housing.  A survey of sailors and families living in government-owned or government-leased housing was launched March 19 and runs through June 6.

A recent report by Military Times said the first phase of lodging privatization — short-term homes on Navy bases — would begin by December 2020.

It cited a Feb. 6 memo by Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer to the chief of naval operations and the Marine Corps commandant saying the Navy could save more than $8 billion in construction costs and an additional $5 billion over the 50-year life of the effort to privatize all Navy lodging.

“I am committed to realize similar successes by privatizing our lodging portfolio, both appropriated and nonappropriated, using competitive processes to create sustainable financial operations and improve the quality of these facilities,” Spencer wrote.

Despite concerns about privatized housing, “the Secretary of the Navy is pushing this lodging privatization extremely hard,” an unnamed source told Military Times.

Spencer signed his memo a week before a Feb. 13 Senate hearing where military spouses testified about mold and other problems in their military housing, and their frustration in trying to get their privatized housing company to address the problems, as well as difficulties getting assistance from installation officials, the independent site said.

According to the latest report by the San Diego Military Advisory Council, the region has 143,000 active duty personnel and expects 15,000 more over the next few years.

“In 2018, San Diego benefited from $26 billion in direct defense spending which equated to $50 billion in GRP and was supported by 340,000 jobs within the military sector,” said the report.

Brian O’Rourke, the San Diego-based spokesman for Navy Region Southwest, said Tuesday that the Navy’s San Diego Metro Family Housing Office provides family housing services and oversight for properties associated with naval bases Coronado, San Diego and Point Loma as well as MCAS Miramar.

He said the Navy provides 9,135 family housing/PPV units in the county.

“As of today, we have 8,694 units occupied. … Of the 9,135 units, 8,493 are off base and 642 are on base,” he said. About 8,900 beds are occupied in unaccompanied housing and dorms on base.

Has Navy privatized housing in San Diego County been the subject of criticism?

“We’ve had town hall meetings in San Diego and reaching out to families to understand their experiences in local military housing and help resolve any issues they might have,” O’Rourke said via email. “While there have been some individual complaints in some of our local housing neighborhoods, nothing suggests any of our neighborhoods have significant problems.”

Camp Pendleton didn’t immediately respond to questions about its Marine housing.

Updated at 4:40 p.m. April 2, 2019

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