No place like home: Program improvements help Air Force cultivate better base housing  

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  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – In three years since launching a sweeping effort to improve housing for Airman, Guardians and their families, the Department of the Air Force has completed more than 90 percent of its initial improvement goals.  

In 2019, the Air Force developed a broad plan with 51 initiatives to address housing quality, maintenance, empowering residents and other issues. The housing improvement initiatives featured critical process changes including standardizing the housing work order system, enacting a Tenant Bill of Rights to identify options to raise concerns and resolve issues, improving annual tenant satisfaction surveys to capture health and safety issues, establishing resident councils and hiring 60 resident advocates to amplify community voices to Air Force leadership.

“We are working hard to change the culture of privatized housing delivery and rebuild the trust of our Airmen, Guardians and their families,” said Yvonne Brabham, acting Air Force Housing Division chief, said.

The housing team at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center was at the tip of the spear in refining an action plan to address the challenges after residents shared deep concerns about the status of housing. The AFCEC team focused on restoring resident faith in the privatized and military housing programs.

“Military members today need the assurance that the home is the one thing they don’t have to worry about,” said Walter Graves, AFCEC’s Air Force Housing Privatization Branch chief, who oversees a portfolio of more than 55,000 privatized housing units. As a 27-year Air Force veteran, Graves said housing is an important part of mission readiness for military members.

“While I was away, I needed my family to have a good roof over their head,” Graves said. “I needed them to be taken care of and feel safe in our home.”

To better understand the scope of the housing issue, Air Force leaders initiated the Military Privatized Housing Inspection in 2019. The inspection provided Air Force leaders a clearer understanding of the issues raised by residents and helped identify responsive solutions.

“Those were very hectic times,” said Lisa Fisher, Air Force Housing Standards and Evaluation chief. “We knew housing oversight would never be the same again.”   

Naomi Hendricks, the Military Housing Office manager at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, has watched her office’s duties increase significantly as part of the improvement plan. From the early days of the base housing culture change when her team joined base leaders during house-to-house visits to today, the role of the Military Housing Office has grown to better serve the Moody community.    

“Even though we had oversight of the housing projects previously, the improvements brought more oversight and put our office staff in the field working one-on-one with the project owners,” she said. “It seems that we now have more of a means to ensure service members’ concerns are being addressed not just correctly but also in a timely manner.”   

During a recent National Defense Summit, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., emphasized the importance of collaboration among all stakeholders to ensure enduring mission success.  

“The things we do, we cannot do by ourselves,” he said.  

Fisher acknowledges the importance of inclusive relationships as the Air Force charts the way ahead to ensure bases continue to offer the quality housing that residents need to thrive.   

“Through active engagement at all levels, focus on training, continuous process improvement and sharing lessons learned, the Air Force can help make lasting change to continue the positive momentum and meet the needs of our most important stakeholders, our Airmen, Guardians and their families,” she said.    

To help foster better relationships and empower residents, the Air Force hired resident advocates at stateside bases.

“We don’t want anyone to feel like they aren’t being heard,” Cathy Wiley, resident advocate at JBSA-Randolph, said. “Establishing the resident advocate role was one of the best things the Air Force did to re-build trust with Air Force families. When people know they have a link, when they feel like someone is listening, they feel better about what they are part of.”  

With a handful of mostly behind-the-scenes process and administrative changes left before completing the housing improvement initiatives, Air Force housing officials are focusing on keeping the improvement momentum going.

Collaboration is key, Wiley said. As the Air Force works with residents, commanders and project owners, the sense of community is growing.  

“I’m excited about what is happening in these housing communities,” she said. “We are going to get things done together.”