Meet JBER's newest advocate

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jordan Smith
  • 673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson welcomed a new advocate to the installation in support of military families, privatized housing, and installation leadership in February. 

The 673d Air Base Wing’s new privatized housing resident advocate position was created as an additional resource for military families who live in on-base housing.

“In 2019, if you remember seeing the news, there were several military families who testified on Capitol Hill, bringing some really horrible housing issues to light that military families were facing,” said Kristi Adams, JBER’s new privatized housing resident advocate. “Part of the response to that was the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Act, in which Congress created the Military Housing Bill of Rights, and also created resident advocate positions. Their intent was having a dedicated housing resource at the wing level for residents to bring these concerns to.”

The Military Housing Bill of Rights assures military families of the right to healthy and safe on-base housing conditions while providing a resource to ensure those rights are adhered to.

“As JBER’s resident advocate, Kristi works for command, and reports directly to the installation vice wing commander,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kirsten Aguilar, the JBER and 673d ABW commander. “Why does that matter? It means that she has a direct link to senior installation leadership. So when we have issues that our residents raise, and they are not able to work them out with our privatized housing partner, or our Military Housing Office, we have the ability to get command and leadership teams involved.”

In addition to serving as a liaison between residents, leadership, and various housing agencies, Adams also focuses on advocacy and outreach services -- educating leadership and command teams on what housing resources JBER offers and creating an open line of communication for housing matters between residents and the wing.

Initial efforts to create the position began in February of 2019 when military families testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee; the first round of resident advocates were hired in June of 2020. Being a new position, there have been some unique challenges.

“Probably the biggest challenge is the fact that this is a new position -- both new for JBER and new for the [Department of Defense],” Adams said. “So there are lines of effort in how the DoD wants the position to look, but aside from that, actually developing the framework is up to the resident advocates.” 

“The biggest challenge of any new program is simply getting the word out that it exists,” said U.S. Army Col. Dean Denter, JBER and 673d ABW vice commander. “Continued advocacy and education will be keys to success. I’m looking forward to seeing the networks Kristi will continue to develop, particularly in the spouses’ resources communities, with our Family Readiness Groups and Key Spouse teams.”

There are 65 privatized housing resident advocates across DoD installations that have privatized housing, each tasked with improving the relationship between housing companies and the military installations they are partnered with, and advocating for the military families assigned to that community who choose to live on the installation.

“What JBER needs is not going to be the same as what Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst needs, or what Robins [Air Force Base] needs,” Adams said. “Those are different environments and different housing footprints…. So it requires a significant amount of technical knowledge of understanding the contracts and understanding the documents, understanding what the residents need, and then putting that into an actionable plan.”

Each privatized housing resident advocate is given additional training and certification, and typically has a real estate-related background to better advocate for safe housing conditions.

“I consider myself a life-long learner, and in this kind of position, you have to be,” Adams said, who is also a certified military housing inspector and holds a Master of Real Estate Development degree from the University of Maryland.

Although there have been challenges and a learning curve with establishing a new position, JBER has an advantage in partnering with Aurora Military Housing. 

“A strength that this base has that I haven’t seen in other bases is that Aurora is local,” Adams said. “It’s an Alaskan-owned company -- their on-the-ground team is local and their headquarters is in downtown Anchorage. So if there are significant problems, the wing commander can reach out to corporate and have a meeting if needed.”

Adams meets monthly with the 673d Civil Engineering Group’s leadership, to include the Military Housing Office element chief, and Aurora Military Housing, and quarterly with Aurora Corporate, their senior vice president, Aguilar, Denter, U.S. Army Alaska representatives, and the 673d CEG.

“You hear all the horror stories about privatized housing, and that’s not how it should be. We can do better, and we are going to prove that,” Adams said. “A frequent discussion that comes up is we want JBER to be the gold standard of how privatized housing can and should work on an installation. We want to be the best.”

Adams said she would love to see more national legislation to protect military families and hopes this new position will expand to third-party off-installation renting options in the future.