Study finds military families face widespread problems in private housing

A new survey released Wednesday reveals the scope of the problems inside the military's housing privatization program. Based on nearly 16,000 responses from military families who have lived in privatized housing within the last three years, the report by the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) found 55 percent of respondents had negative experiences with their corporate landlords.

Families complained of housing issues at more than 160 military installations across the country, citing problems including routine maintenance delays, illnesses and water quality concerns. Nearly 30% of respondents reported issues with mold in their residences, and more than 1,500 detailed problems with vermin or pest infestations.

At seven of the 10 largest military installations in the U.S. by population, the majority of respondents reported negative experiences with private housing contractors.

"We were overwhelmed by the number of respondents that we had and it really goes to show that these aren't one-off issues," said Shannon Razsadin, executive director of MFAN. "This is a widespread problem, and it's something that needs to be acted on."

CBS News reviewed the survey results in advance of publication, and the data was turned over to officials at the Department of Defense (DOD) and staff at Senate Armed Services Committee last week. 

In a statement responding to the survey, the Pentagon said the department is working to "improve responsiveness to concerns as we strive to ensure a positive experience for all military families living in privatized housing"

"DOD remains confident that privatizing housing was the right thing to do. However, we also recognize there has been a lapse in overseeing implementation of DOD's housing privatization program," said Heather Babb, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon.

The release of the survey's detailed results comes more than three months after housing company CEOs and military leaders testified before the Senate and vowed to find a fix to this widespread problem.

Still, military families continue to struggle with housing issues. CBS affiliate WUSA spoke with a family just last month who was dealing with maintenance and structural safety issues at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. And earlier this month, CBS News visited Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, where families are living in homes that have leaks, mold and insects infestations.

"I've made contact with everyone in my neighborhood, every single one of these houses has issues," said Derek, a Navy flight engineer who asked that his last name not be used because of the sensitivity of his work. "Mold, mice. I mean, we've thrown away formula because we had ants in the formula. We've thrown away food because of ants in the food. We've had mice. I mean, we're wasting our money, replacing stuff."

Derek, his wife and their three kids have lived in base housing on Tinker for three years, paying more than $1,400 a month in rent. Like all residents of the privatized housing program, the money — called a Basic Allowance for Housing — comes out of his paycheck every month and goes directly to the company managing his house.  

"No one should have to worry about their safety in their own house," Razsadin, the MFAN executive director, said. "The challenge here is military families don't have recourse. They never even see the money. It immediately goes from them to this privatized housing company. So they don't have the ability to withhold rent when they're dealing with a challenge. They can't say, 'You need to fix x, y, z, otherwise I'm not going to pay you.'"

Shelley Kimball, a professor at George Washington University, specializes in qualitative research and oversaw the production of the MFAN report.

"We're trying to understand reality. We're trying to understand what's actually happening out there," Kimball said, pointing to the 16,779 military families who participated in the survey. "So for me, this kind of an uprising in response is also a data point, that they were so frustrated that they were coming forward so quickly. The military community doesn't always respond in this way and so that's very telling. "