- The Washington Times
Sunday, January 31, 2021

A management company based in Australia will get more than $1 billion to make significant home improvements at six Army posts, even after its work was questioned in providing safe and healthy housing for Marine Corps families in North Carolina.

The $1.1 billion capital investment for Lendlease, which owns and manages more than 26,000 homes on several Army posts, is coming from public financial institutions, Defense Department officials said last week.

Obtaining the private-sector investment will “accelerate significant improvements” to 12,000 existing homes in Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, both in Kentucky; Fort Wainwright in Alaska; and Army housing on Oahu in Hawaii, according to Gen. Ed Daly, commander of Army Materiel Command.

“This additional investment will go a long way in improving the quality of homes for soldiers and their families,” Gen. Daly said.

The money is meant to address what has been a chronic logistical and public relations problem for the military — continuing reports that service members are being housed in substandard conditions either in barracks or privatized unit under landlords that have failed to keep up their properties.

The state of military family housing and the Pentagon’s oversight of private landlords have drawn a critical Government Accountability Office survey and a series of hearings on Capitol Hill spotlighting the problem.

The recently passed 2021 National Defense Authorization Act calls for the Defense Department’s inspector general to audit the health of military personnel living in privatized housing units. The law, which passed over President Trump’s veto, also says the Pentagon must make public more information on how it manages and compensates private companies to provide military housing.

A large chunk of new $1.1 billion investment package is earmarked for Fort Hood, one of the Army’s largest installations. The work is expected to begin in the summer, officials said.

“I look forward to seeing our soldiers and their families in modern housing that they can be proud to call home,” said Lt. Gen. Pat White, the commander at Fort Hood. “People are our greatest asset, and we owe it to the soldiers and families who work and live here to provide them the best housing possible.”

In addition to renovating more than 12,000 existing homes on the Army posts, the investment package will mean the construction of more than 1,200 new homes, company officials said.

“Thanks to the privatization and our innovative approach to financing, we’re able to expedite our improvement plans, allocating funds to projects based on those with the greatest needs and priorities without appropriations from Congress,” said Denis Hickey, CEO of Lendlease Americas. 

Lendlease is an international property and investments group based in Sydney.

The company is the target of a still-ongoing lawsuit filed in federal court in North Carolina that contends three Marine Corps families at Camp Lejeune were victims of a business that “placed profits over tenants.” 

According to the lawsuit, Lendlease owns and manages about 4,000 homes at Camp Lejeune as part of a 50-year lease with the government. The plaintiffs said their homes were too often uninhabitable — covered with mold and filth, infested with pests and prone to flooding.

“As conditions grew worse, [Lendlease] exploited the fact that military service members are trained not to complain. When families did complain, they feared that [the] defendants would use their superior power to cause retaliation,” according to the federal lawsuit.

Securing the public investment for Lendlease had been a goal of former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. Each Army post has a long-term sustainment plan that includes capital repair, replacement and reinvestment, officials said.

“We are getting in front of housing issues,” Gen. Daly said. “Commanders at all levels are engaged. Our leaders and housing staff continue to address problems quickly.”

Lendlease officials say they are dedicating “numerous resources” to roll out improvements across thousands of homes and create communities where military families can thrive.

“Service members and their families put their trust in us to provide quality homes and community resources,” said Phillip Carpenter, CEO of Lendlease Communities. 

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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