Here, near the heart of America’s “Tornado Alley,” an Air Force contractor built 398 new homes less than a decade ago, bankrolled as part of the U.S. government’s vow of safe shelter for the men and women who serve.
Today the collection of cookie-cutter duplexes is showing declines more typical of aged and neglected housing. Last spring, just six years after landlord Balfour Beatty Communities finished construction, the company was forced to start replacing every foot of water line in each house to fix systemic plumbing failures. In September, the company and Air Force inspected the tiny rooms where heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment is housed. Half had mold or water damage. Residents complain of leaks, mold, rodents and cockroaches.
While living in her new house on base, Stephanie Oakley’s five-year-old son underwent 42 weeks of chemotherapy, 33 days of pelvis radiation and 10 days of full-lung radiation this year. Doctors removed his adenoids, the hospital says, and then his tonsils.
The cancer treatment severely weakened his immune system. Any infections from mold, the family’s doctor warned, could be lethal. So when Oakley found mold in the vents of her home in August, she instantly called Balfour Beatty.
Yet the cleanup worsened the problem, she said. A contractor cleaned the vents but failed to cover the Oakleys’ possessions. She returned home to find fungus throughout the house. Green webs of mold stretched across the Batman emblems of her son’s sheets.
“I never felt hopeless about him getting cancer. I had faith,” she said. “But this right here is harder to deal with.”
Her story is part of a largely hidden reality about life on America’s military bases. The U.S. Department of Defense has privatized most of the living quarters on bases around the country, partnering with private companies to manage the vast system. What the Pentagon touts as privatization’s signature achievement – the building of new housing for military families – is marred by faulty construction and poor upkeep, Reuters found.