AUGUST 14, 2019 – Privatized family housing at Fort Lee received the lowest overall satisfaction score in five years from post residents who took part in the recent Army-wide RCI Survey. The results included two ‘Good’ and one ‘Average’ ratings on the assessment’s overall Satisfaction Comparison Index.
The 77.2 percent score for ‘Overall Satisfaction’ is down 7.9 percent from last year. Also scoring lower are ‘Property Satisfaction’ at 73.4 percent, compared to 83.2 percent in 2018, and ‘Service Satisfaction’ at 79.6 percent – a 7.3 percent drop. The two highest scoring areas under ‘Overall Satisfaction’ are ‘Readiness to Solve Problems’ and ‘Quality of Leasing Services’ while the lowest are ‘Property Rating’ and ‘Renewal Intention,’ which is the likelihood of residents renewing their leases.
RCI surveys were sent to 79,388 privatized housing residents Army-wide and 23,431 participated – a response rate of 29.5 percent. At Fort Lee, 1,421 homes were invited to provide input and 55.7 percent did. Washington Grove, Jefferson Terrace and Madison Park turned in the most surveys, and Monroe Manor – the largest neighborhood on post – the least.
“It does concern me that only a little over half of our residents took part in the survey,” said Col. Hollie Martin, Fort Lee garrison commander. “We’ve been very clear in emphasizing the point that what residents say matters, but so many still chose not to give input. I think a lot of those individuals who didn’t respond may not understand that feedback is a part of how we hold our housing partners accountable.
“To me, residents not taking the survey signals apathy, satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their current housing situation,” she added. “Best case, the resident is happy; worst case, the resident may be saying ‘You know what, I give up. Why give input if nothing is getting done?’”
Backing up her observation, Martin flipped to an 86-page section of the survey analytics containing resident comments. Multiple passages had been underlined and circled in her thoroughly read-through copy and short statements like “well-said,” “follow-up with Hunt” and “need to contact resident” had been written beside many of them.
“Actually, I was pleasantly surprised with the results for most of our neighborhoods,” she said. “There are many favorable comments in here about the courtesy of the Hunt Communities staff and maintenance workers and what people enjoy about living here.”
On the flip side, the survey results and resident comments indicate there is needed improvement. Common among the negatives are things like grass in common areas not being cut often enough, patch-job repair work, refusal to replace soiled carpets or damaged flooring, insect infestations, failing appliances and worries about mold. Some of the comments reiterated concerns that residents had vocalized at the first housing town hall here in February.
“We emphasize to residents every chance we can to submit a work order if something is broken, worn out or unsafe in their homes. That will not change because it is our best documented tool to hold our housing partners accountable,” Martin said with a side note that shoddy work can be reported to the post housing office and the commander’s hotline (804-734-6300). She very much wants to hear from residents who are not getting results within the response time windows established by Hunt.
Furthermore, on Aug. 1 Hunt launched its YARDI web-based application titled ‘RENTCafe Resident.’ The launch notification has been pushed out to residents. It is meant to improve maintenance request follow-up and communications throughout the community.
“A source of frustration throughout our community centers on the backlog of maintenance work orders for our homes and a lack of maintenance employees to get issues resolved,” Martin said. “Our housing partner continues to struggle with hiring technicians to help solve the problems at hand and this is definitely frustrating for our residents and the command.”
One resident comment in the survey reads, “Me writing on how to improve this community will not make a difference … so why are you all wasting people’s times?”
Martin commented, “the lengthy response times and lack of maintenance employees are a growing concern. These problems are very real for families and for the limited number of maintenance employees trying to keep up. Though residents may get frustrated with the current situation, it is important for our community to remember that we’re all serving together – committed to serving others as members of the Army team. It strengthens our community when we have mutual respect for each other and a positive attitude to solve problems. Though challenging, I look at our housing situation as a great opportunity to build strength throughout the community.
“Ultimately, the reality of the situation is housing’s impact on readiness,” the colonel also observed. “If the service member is constantly home dealing with maintenance problems, that valuable time is lost at work getting our new Soldiers trained and ready to perform the Army’s mission. Also, if the spouse and family is miserable due to health issues, will they choose to reenlist?”
The colonel’s comments are in lock step with Army messaging. The “enduring obligation” of service leaders is to take care of military troops and their families. Health and welfare is of the utmost importance, and Soldiers and families choosing to live in installation housing have a right to quality, safe, clean and healthy homes.
“The next step for us is to go through the survey findings by neighborhood and develop an action plan based off the feedback,” Martin said. “We have until Aug. 30 to develop that plan and will work closely with Hunt Military Communities in the upcoming weeks toward that aim. We’ll take a look at every single area and ask what’s going to be done to improve it and whether the solution is short term, near term or long term. We’ll consider budgeting, resourcing and everything else.
“Of course, we’ll be sharing the results of this survey and update the community on things like the RENTCafe App and Community Advisory Board at our next resident town hall (set for Aug. 19, 4:30 p.m., at Memorial Chapel),” she summarized. “We are going to live-stream this event on Fort Lee Facebook like we did with the last one. I want to see as much resident participation as possible whether in-person or online because that too sends the message that we as a team are going to keep working hard to hold ourselves and our housing partners accountable. Inadequate housing conditions are simply unacceptable for the men, women and families who serve our country.”
The employment of satisfaction surveys is but one of many efforts the Army has implemented to gain feedback and improve housing quality and services. Others aside from measures mentioned earlier include the establishment of a Housing Environmental Health Response Registry, a joint Tenant Bill of Rights and improved work-order tracking systems.
Story by Patrick Buffett
U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee Public Affairs