Army households describe roaches, rodents, and mildew in navy housing

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Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonn Roellchen and his wife Roxanne had been in their new home for less than 24 hours when they saw the cockroaches.

It was June 2019 and they had just moved into their home at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Just a few hours earlier, they had carried out a drive-through inspection and pointed out a water damage that the housing department wanted to address the next day.

But that night they saw two different types of cockroaches in the house, and the next day Roxanne saw a cockroach on her four-year-old son’s feeding tube.

The Roellchens recently joined nine other military families living on bases in Texas, including the Fort Bliss Army Post and the Lackland and Sheppard Air Force bases, in a lawsuit against their privatized housing company Balfour Beatty Communities and its affiliates. The lawsuit alleges one instance after another of “poor conditions”, plumbing problems, insect and rodent infestations that have been ignored, asbestos, mold and a housing provider who turned a blind eye to his complaints.

The lawsuit states that families “had to rely on the housing providers” to solve the problems they raised, and after each repair they “believed” that their problems were solved. But in the end they realized “that the so-called ‘repairs’ of the rental companies were nothing more than plastering measures”.

A spokesman for the Balfour Beatty Communities said Friday that providing “safe and habitable housing for our residents is our top priority” and that they are “aware of the complaint, which we believe is completely unfounded, and intend to vigorously address them.” defend. ”

“We take reports of mold, pests and other potential hazards very seriously and urge our residents to notify us immediately if they have a problem so that we can resolve the problem as soon as possible … We are committed to continuous improvement in our military Living and are focused on ensuring a high quality living experience, ”said the spokesman.

Balfour Beatty – which operates a military portfolio of thousands of homes in 55 Army, Navy and Air Force facilities – is one of several privatized housing providers criticized by Congress for failing military families and leaving them in unacceptable housing conditions. The company was notified last year after it discovered widespread problems at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, that were not addressed in a timely manner.

John Henderson, the Air Force’s then assistant secretary for installations, environment and energy, wrote to Balfour Beatty saying the problems they found with Tinker “pose worrisome life, health and safety issues” and are “on a growing list.” “Followed by severe downtime in construction, maintenance, repair, administration and oversight across BBC’s portfolio of Air Force housing projects.

Employee Sgt. Röllchen and his family know that too.

A Reuters report on privatized housing first shed light on the Roellchen story two years ago, but they continue to struggle with Balfour Beatty.

The nightmare of her first home in 2019 was short-lived; Staff member Sgt. Roellchen said a contractor had come to repair water damage in the bathroom and found large black mold, cockroaches and small gecko lizards in the wall.

A gecko lizard found in the wall of the Roellchen family’s first home at Lackland Air Force Base. (Photo via Staff Sgt.Jonn Roellchen)

They were quickly moved from this house – although their belongings remained for over a month – and “were forced to hop between temporary accommodations … and hotel rooms” before moving to a house much smaller than what it was her family of seven needed. The Roellchens moved into a five-room house in 2020 and are still there today.

While hoping for a fresh start, this house had many of the same problems as the first.

“Since moving to this five-bedroom house, we’ve identified four different types of cockroaches,” Staff Sgt. Roellchen told Task & Purposeam Friday, adding that they also found unsealed vents that allowed rodents to enter the house and mold that the Housing Office painted over.

The other points made in the new lawsuit against Balfour Beatty were no better. A family at Fort Bliss said they had seen toxic mold, gas leaks and “excessive sand penetration through faulty window and door seals.” Another family said they had health problems and developed asthma and migraines within months of moving into their Sheppard Air Force Base home. The father of the family, James Banner, suffered from such severe migraines that he was eventually discharged from the military, the lawsuit said.

Another family at Fort Bliss said their home had toxic mold, insect infestation, water leaks and burst pipes all over the house.

“The last pipe burst was a hot water pipe that burst in the concrete foundation in the children’s room in the middle of the night,” the lawsuit said. “And woke up the children by burning them with me [scalding] hot water.”

News of the lawsuit comes after two privatized houseworkers pleaded guilty to serious fraud against the US Air Force – one of whom worked in Lackland, the same facility where the Rochellens live. The Justice Department said in a press release that the two employees “conspired to tamper with and forge maintenance reports,” which are used to set financial bonuses for the companies overseeing the privatized homes at the facilities.

Roellchen, who is preparing to move his family to Nellis Air Force Base next month, said the same practices are still in place in Lackland.

“They are still doing the same things today that they have people in jail for. The problems with the work orders for which they were investigated by the Federal Office are still happening, ”he explained. “Nothing has changed.”

One reason things don’t really change is because companies are telling lawmakers and Defense Department officials what they want to hear. He often sees it in town halls with base management, when company representatives repeatedly apologize for what the service employees are busy with, but do not act.

And Roellchen is fed up with having to apologize.

“You can sit here and tell me you’re sorry all you want,” he said. “I don’t want me to be sorry, I want you to do the job.”

Featured Photo: Mold in the Roellchen family’s first home on Lackland Air Force Base. (Photo via Staff Sgt.Jonn Roellchen)

Update: This story was updated after posting to include comments from Balfour Beatty Communities.