‘Poop Falling from the Ceiling’: Despite Improvements, Fort Gordon Families Detail Continued Housing Issues

May 10, 2023
A maintenance worker for Balfour Beatty Housing.

The Army and a private housing company have made some improvements in the year since the release of a scathing Senate investigation into unsafe living conditions at Fort Gordon, Georgia, but military families are still struggling to get mold and other hazards fixed, according to a follow-up report released Tuesday.

In connection with the latest report’s release, Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., also held a roundtable with former and current Fort Gordon residents where they described laboring to get Balfour Beatty Communities to respond to filthy living conditions, including rampant mold and leaking sewage.

“We can’t live in this house with poop falling from the ceiling,” Joy Viera, an Army spouse who had a sewage backflow in a bathroom that leaked into the kitchen a day after she and her family moved into a home at Fort Gordon, said at the roundtable.

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Last year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which at the time was led by Ossoff, released its bipartisan investigation that depicted Balfour Beatty ignoring residents’ concerns about mold, asbestos and other dangerous living conditions.

Balfour Beatty provides housing to 150,000 military residents in 26 states, but the report focused largely on Fort Gordon in Ossoff’s home state.

The issues detailed in the report came after Balfour Beatty in December 2021 pleaded guilty to fraud tied to conditions in military housing from 2013 to 2019. As part of the plea, the company agreed to pay $65 million in fines and restitution.

Balfour Beatty representatives were invited to attend Tuesday’s roundtable, but declined, Ossoff said.

A spokesperson for the company did not respond to a request for comment from Military.com on Tuesday by the publication’s deadline.

After the initial Senate report, the Army announced it was launching its own probe into housing conditions at Fort Gordon.

The Army’s investigation found “persistent shortcomings” in Balfour Beatty’s management, including that mold remediation guidelines weren’t consistently followed, that data wasn’t being use to plan for future maintenance and that the company did not hire skilled trade workers, according to a summary in the report Ossoff released Tuesday.

In July, Army officials also notified Balfour Beatty it was out of compliance with its contractual obligations to the Army to meet “very basic” standards of “safety and inhabitability” and demanded the company craft a quality assurance and control plan, Rachel Jacobson, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said at Tuesday’s roundtable.

Jacobson also urged Congress to approve $50 million included in the fiscal 2024 budget request to build up to 100 new homes at Fort Gordon. She stressed the money would not go to Balfour Beatty and that new housing would have a “major impact” on the quality of life at the base.

“Our families and our soldiers truly deserve quality housing,” added Lt. Gen. Kevin Vereen, Army’s deputy chief of staff for installations. “It is our job to uphold the obligation to our Army families that we will have quality housing wherever they reside.”

Since last year’s Senate investigation, Balfour Beatty has increased the number of maintenance staff at Fort Gordon and the number of call center staff available to respond to maintenance requests, expanded training and education for employees, and implemented a new quality assurance plan for gas and venting work orders, according to Tuesday’s report.

The latest report also commended the Army for doing unit-by-unit inspections of Fort Gordon housing that started last week, requiring more comprehensive quality assurance plans and “more vigorously enforcing” the terms of its lease agreement with Balfour Beatty.

But the report also said Balfour Beatty and the Army both need to do more to plan for long-term viability of its housing, including using data to better predict future maintenance needs. Balfour Beatty also needs to do more to ensure the technical quality of maintenance work and consistently identify and remediate mold, the report added.

“I heard from some of the enlisted personnel that I met with last week that for work orders that touch on health, life or safety, they have seen some prompter response times,” Ossoff said. “But we also found severe ongoing issues with the quality of the workmanship.”

Army spouses who spoke at Tuesday’s roundtable also said they continue to struggle to get Balfour Beatty to respond to their urgent maintenance requests and adequately repair their homes.

Erin Greer, who has lived in what she described as “inexcusable” conditions at Fort Gordon housing with her Army husband for six years, said she and her husband were forced to sleep in their car and on their porch for two weeks last year after an independent mold inspector they hired certified the home was “unfit for human occupancy.” Balfour wouldn’t pay for a hotel until it conducted its own inspection, she said.

That came after years of Balfour Beatty only doing cosmetic repairs when she reported mold, she said. After the independent inspection, Balfour eventually conducted its own mold inspection and assured Greer and her husband repairs were made days later, but the couple found mold when they moved back in.

“There was black mold on the carpet. To this day, that mold is still on that carpet,” Greer said.

Viera, the spouse whose home had a sewage leak, said she heard a supervisor tell a maintenance worker that the plumbing problems were a “known issue” before her family moved in.

When her family was placed in a different home after living in a hotel for a month, Viera quickly discovered mold, along with trash, bugs and other signs the house wasn’t cleaned before they moved in. The family — which includes Viera, her husband, two children and two dogs — then moved off base because they did not trust Balfour Beatty to rid the home of mold, she said.

“We spent thousands of dollars between hotel stays and finding a short-term apartment rental off post after searching for weeks,” she said. “Balfour Beatty’s incompetence made a difficult thing — moving across the country in the middle of a school year for a very short-term tour — almost impossible.”

— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

 

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