Army families settle suit – Housing Discrimination

Agreement resolves disability dispute with housing contractor at Fort Lewis

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Shorter version (no reg) here

Gone are the old days at many bases where military housing was run by a bunch of incompetent bureaucrats, lording over the fiefs, er, soldiers and sailors. Today, much of that has been outsourced, and we now have callous “private contractors” doing similar — but the difference is that there is now a legal recourse (seriously, this is an improvement).

Army families have settled their lawsuit against the private housing contractor at Fort Lewis over its treatment of people with disabilities.
On Wednesday, family members said the agreement should make it easier for residents to ask for and get modifications made to their homes on post, such as wheelchair ramps and bathroom hand-rails.

The initial issue here was service members enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), which means that a dependent (in military-speak, that means family member) requires specialty medical or educational care, so the service member will not get permanently stationed at some remote base without such care (like the Azores).

However, this could (and appears that it did) expand into cases where a service member was injured in Afghanistan or Iraq was given the same raspberry response while temporarily needing handicapped facilities while recovering or transitioning out of the military.

Seven Army families sued the partners, Equity Residential Properties Management Corp. of Chicago and Lincoln Property of Dallas, last May in U.S. District Court. The plaintiffs said their landlords ignored their requests for modifications, treated them disrespectfully and threatened them with eviction if they complained.
The Army was not a party in the lawsuit.

Actually, the legal complaint (pdf – Apr 2004) stated that the “landlord” threatened retaliation, and that they were specifically given surprise sanitation inspections to try to evict them (dirty dishes in the sink, shower stall has some mold (in Washington State!), etc — you are out!).

And you really can’t sue the Army/USG. If you accept government housing, you accept it warts and all, unless gross malfeasance is proven (Example, at the San Francisco Presidio, the Army housing could not be used to house the homeless after the Army moved out, because it did not met the minimum standards of HUD (but OK for DOD)).

In 2000, the property management firms won a $3 billion, 50-year contract to manage and renovate Fort Lewis̢۪ family housing.
The Equity-Lincoln partnership is renovating the post̢۪s 3,600 housing units and building another 360 new homes. In exchange, the company is guaranteed each soldier resident̢۪s monthly basic allowance for housing.
The deal is one of more than two dozen privatization efforts at military bases across the country as the Defense Department seeks to overhaul its aging and in some cases dilapidated military family housing.
Plaintiffs said they hope the agreement reached in the Fort Lewis case can serve as a model for other installations where housing is run by private contractors.

In many ways this outsourcing of military housing functions is a win-win situation. At Ft Lewis, WA the company is getting $1079/month (BAH) for an E-5 family ($974 for an E-4), less utilities cost. They have to maintain and improve existing facilities, and build additional facilities (with no land cost, nor property tax). The military does not have to ask Congress for appropriated funds for new facilities, which would increase the defense budget. But a 50-year contract? Public bonds usually max out at 30-years. This country is under 250 years old. I don’t even want to think about the clauses in this contract for early termination.

This was a potential public relations disaster for Equity and Lincoln Property. Lincoln is one of the largest property firms (it is private) in the country, with sales of US$1.7B last year (Hoovers). And this is not just Ft. Lewis as this LLP won the contracts at over 20 other military bases. Second guessing what happened here, the local head of the company decided this wasn’t in the contract with the Army, so “the answer is no.” Fortunately saner heads prevailed before the lawyers fees became too huge. While the military is exempt from much of the ADA (no need to make submarines handicapped accessible), that should not apply to military housing.

(Since I was on the BAH website, the 2006 monthly rates for DC (w/dep) are E-4 $1381, E-5 $1472, E-7 $1849, O-4 $2237, O-5 $2394 – there are similar projects at Ft Belvoir and Ft Meade)

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Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.


  1. Summer Krook says:

    Thank you for the article about our lawsuit. We are extemely proud of the outcome and hope other bases take note.

    Thanks again,
    Summer Krook
    Director, PADD