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JBLM leaders give updates on housing improvements

On-base housing residents voice their concerns during town hall

Colonel Nicole Lucas, JBLM Garrison commander, answers a question for Staff Sgt. Justin Trammell, 1st Special Forces Group, about speeding within the on-base neighborhoods at Carey Theater June 26. Photo credit: Lauren Finnegan

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Mold remediation, pet fees and basic allowance for housing were the main topics discussed at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord housing town hall hosted by Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, I Corps commanding general and Col. Nicole Lucas, JBLM Garrison commander at Carey Theater last week.

The forum was a follow-up to the town halls that took place in February in response to the recent Department of Defense emphasis on improving base housing conditions.

Volesky and Lucas updated residents on the changes and improvements that have been made over the last four months.

"Is it perfect?" Volesky asked. "Have we fixed everything? Not yet. There's still a number of things we've got to fix, and we acknowledge that. But if you look at what we're going to tell you today I think you'll see that we've gone and built momentum, and we want to make sure that we continue to get your feedback."

Since February, I Corps and JBLM have established a housing policy that requires chain of command involvement and have established housing noncommissioned officers so the command has visibility of the specific issues their soldiers and airmen are facing. In addition, a common operating picture has been created to track the housing work orders.

As of March, the Department of the Army headquarters has also terminated all pet fees for residents in military housing. While occupants must still pay a refundable pet deposit, monthly charges are no longer authorized.

Charges for utilities are also a thing of the past; however, residents will still receive utility statements which detail their water and electricity usage each month. Although these statements may look like a bill, they are only intended to make servicemembers and families cognizant of their power usage for conservation purposes.

Nathaniel Stevens, the regional property manager for Lewis-McChord Communities and Lincoln Military Housing, also detailed the changes Lincoln has made to improve not only the quality of housing but also customer satisfaction and service.

"Over the last few months we've received quite a bit of feedback, and we've put together several customer service enhancements that address that - starting with an exemplary customer service training that every employee at Lewis-McChord Communities went through," Stevens said. "(The training) really put a lot of attention on the importance of listening to our residents, in an effort to take service-related actions that help build connections rather than disconnections."

Occupants should also be receiving surveys upon completion of their service requests, as well as a 90-day follow-up from Lincoln staff.

Additionally, quality assurance representatives have been hired to inspect homes prior to new families moving in and coordinating efforts to remedy any concerns expressed.

"We take (feedback) very serious," Stevens said. "It's very critical for us, and it helps drive future endeavors, future projects, and overall it just makes us better. So please keep it coming."

In February, residents expressed concerns over the use of bleach to eradicate mildew and mold issues. Since then, Lewis-McChord Communities has discontinued the use of bleach and now uses an Environmental Protection Agency registered product which is odorless and contains no harmful chemicals.

In regards to the brown water families have experienced primarily on McChord Field, Volesky and Lucas promised that it would be fully remedied in the near future.

Although the water is not dangerous to drink -- and the brown color is a natural occurrence that comes from iron and manganese -- the base plans to construct a centralized water treatment facility for McChord Field housing.

"The water on JBLM is safe to drink, and we do a lot of work to make sure that that's the case," Lucas said. "That being said, we don't want you to drink brown water. We don't want you to wash your clothes in brown water. We don't want you to bathe in brown water ... (The water treatment facility), as Lieutenant General Volesky said, is a number one concern and a number one priority for our next round of projects. So that means funding in the next year and completion in 2021."

In the interim, an in-house filtration system is being installed in one home on McChord Field to determine its effectiveness in dealing with brown water.

After the presentation, the floor was opened for questions. Among the additional concerns expressed were speeding in the neighborhoods, fire ant issues and the lack of air conditioning in some neighborhoods.

David Roberts, a military spouse, in attendance, said he's pleased residents are getting their concerns answered.

"I wish in a way that things could move a little bit faster, but I feel positive in that at least they're doing something," Roberts said."

After inviting residents with additional questions to talk to him and Lucas after the event concluded, Volesky said he was encouraged by what he heard.

"I know the one thing we can't give you back is time," Volesky said. "But what I will tell you is what's encouraging here is we're hearing things that aren't necessarily happening right inside your house. We're hearing things like speeding, and we're hearing things like fire ant hills -- that means we're making a little bit of progress inside of the house, and we will work that piece on the outside."

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