Bipartisan Senator Meeting Fails to Improve Housing for Military and Vets

America is in a constant state of partisanship, and has been ever since John Adams and Thomas Jefferson split the nation’s politics right down the middle under George Washington’s presidency, as the two men competed for who would be the new nation’s next Commander-in-Chief. One thing on which both political parties have long seemed to agree, however, is that America’s military personnel deserve fair treatment for their commitment, service and sacrifice.

So, earlier this week, when Senate’s top Democrat and Republican politicians came together to review a bipartisan solution of military housing needs, most people could agree that this was the right thing to do.

This bipartisan attempt to solve issues in military housing was part of the Pentagon’s ongoing goal to help America’s servicepeople. However, it was widely criticized by the Senate Armed Services Committee for not doing enough. According to one high-ranking Senate official, the proposal “does not go far enough” to protect military families.

At the beginning of the week, the Defense Department released their new Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights, which was met with harsh criticism from Jack Reed (D, RI), and James Inhofe (R, OK), who is also Chairman. The new bill was signed by Mark Esper, Defense Secretary, yet is being called into question for its apparent lack of actual helpful initiatives for military families.

In a joint statement, Reed and Inhofe said that “We are glad to see the [Defense Department] taking steps in the right direction for [military families]. Unfortunately, we are seeing a pattern of moving one step forward, two steps back,” the men stated. “The Department’s [Bill of Rights] does not go far enough,” the two added.

Included in the Defense Department’s new bill are regulations which supposedly ensure that America’s service members and their families have ready and affordable access to houses that are well-maintained and safe. However, the criticisms claim that this Bill doesn’t go far enough to address other concerns, including empowering tenants of these housing units to have a right to withhold paying rent in the event a landlord (or equivalent entity) fails to make necessary repairs. To Reed and Inhofe, a failure to empower tenants to force a landlord’s hand means that they’re effectively stripped of all power and are at the mercy of parties who are not compelled to repair these housing units.

The two Senators also claimed that the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act itself has already stipulated that any tenant Bill of Rights should include a process that enables tenants to dispute rent and other resolutions, including the right to withhold payment of rent if a problem remains unaddressed by the owner. The fact that the Defense Department’s Bill did not include what the NDAA already addressed was seen by Reed and Inhofe as a gross oversight, and insulting to military personnel.

Adding to the reason the Senators took such umbrage with the Defense Department’s Bill was the fact that, back in May 2019, the Senators specifically addressed this issue with the Defense Department, as one of the single-most important aspects to include in any proposed bill. The fact that this was left out of the bill has caused the Senators to view it as an intentional oversight meant to play politics with the rights of America’s military personnel.

As part of their joint statement, which expressed much disappointment, the men stated that they “prioritize meaningful reforms like these in [their bills] to give military families due resource.” Adding that they themselves might “take additional steps in the FY21 (Fiscal Year 2021) defense authorization bill” in order to ensure these protections are included.

Prior to 1996, the government handled most military housing, especially on-base quarters. After ’96, however, the Military Housing Privatization Initiative saw that 99% of the housing was given over to private industry, out of government’s hands. Therefore, any repairs or upgrades needed in housing were handled by the private owners, through contractors, which has led to many military homes failing into a state of disrepair, yet with the military renters still having to pay rent for living arrangements that are, in some cases, unsafe.

Reed and Inhofe claim that they merely want America’s military personnel to be empowered with the right to withhold rent, which for all intents and purposes acts as a tactic of negotiation to compel private owners to fix these properties, if they expect to get paid for them.

It’s not necessarily back to the drawing board entirely; however, Reed and Inhofe expect these changes to be made, either through amendment or included in the next fiscal year.

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