Mold, lead paint and rats: Military families complain of unsafe housing

Complaints of mold, rats in military housing

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to investigate growing problems in the military housing privatization program, which includes more than 200,000 homes managed by private contractors on military bases across the country.

Reuters estimates that the Pentagon pays nearly $4 billion per year in rent to private housing contractors managing properties in nearly every state, but many of the houses are in disrepair, and military families have long felt they had nowhere to turn to get help.

Josh and Lacy Saindon have lived in a house at Ft. Meade in Maryland for more than two years. Instead of rent, the Air Force pays a basic housing allowance of nearly $2,200 a month directly to contractor Corvias Military Living, reports CBS News' Chip Reid.

"At first it looked clean, blank white walls ... we started noticing issues from almost the very beginning," Josh Saindon said.

Appliances started breaking, siding on their 8-year-old house was warped and they suspected mold growing on the floor and walls was affecting their children's health — something their doctor hasn't ruled out.

"Ear infections, sinus, colds. It was one after the other after the other," Lacy said.

According to the EPA, "allergic reactions to mold are common" and "exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs."

Neighbors had a similar problem with mold and a burst pipe that left standing water in their living room. Both families said the response from Corvias was extremely disappointing.

"It seems to be a very long painstaking process to actually try to get them to do anything because they want to, they want to sweep it under the rug," Josh said.

A spokeswoman for Corvias declined to discuss specific cases but acknowledged the company had "let down some ... residents" and said that while mold is a minor problem, they will be hiring an "expert" to review the company's policies.

Shannon Raszadin, a Navy wife, collected complaints ahead of Wednesday's hearing from more than 7,000 tenants across the nation through her group the Military Family Advisory Network.

"They shared stories of black mold, of lead paint, of rats, roaches, bats," Raszadin said. "People don't have recourse and so they don't have the opportunity to withhold a rent check and often they don't have the luxury of going to look at housing before they move."

In 2016, the Defense Department's own inspector general cited "pervasive" health and safety hazards at housing facilities.  A Department of Defense spokeswoman told CBS News that the military and its housing partners "continue to work together to review housing conditions ... and ... evaluate policies and procedures."

Crystal Cornwall will testify before the Senate on Wednesday. After experiencing issues with a contractor at Camp Pendleton, she helped organize a Facebook group that now has nearly 2,000 members.

"I don't think that there's a lot of command support to address housing issues," Cornwall said. "There is no way that any kind of service member can do their job when their family is not safe at home."

The Pentagon told CBS News these military residents have the same rights as any tenant, but in practice numerous families have told us and Reuters that's not the case. State and local housing authorities often tell families they don't have jurisdiction because these properties are on federal land.