DOD gives update on Tenant Bill of Rights for privatized housing

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The Defense Department has made strides toward ensuring that service members and their families have safe, quality housing that's well-maintained by privatized housing companies, a top DOD housing official said.

Paul Cramer, who's performing the duties of the assistant defense secretary for sustainment and chief housing officer, said the DOD has prioritized reforms under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, as well as reforms to rebuild tenant trust and help maintain the financial viability of MHPI housing projects. According to Cramer, the initial phase has focused on implementing the MHPI Tenant Bill of Rights as a visible commitment to military members and their families.

"The department has issued the policy guidance necessary to implement all 18 tenant rights at all MHPI housing projects," Cramer said. "Through negotiation and lots of work with our privatized housing partners, nearly all of the MHPI companies have agreed to implement all 18 tenant rights at their existing privatized housing projects," he added.

Congress recognized in the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that the retroactive application of the 18 tenant rights at existing projects requires voluntary agreement by the respective MHPI companies. The DOD can't unilaterally change the terms of the complex, public-private partnerships that established the MHPI projects.

Cramer confirmed that, with few exceptions, the DOD expects all 18 tenant rights to be fully available at all installations with privatized housing by the end of FY 2021, noting that a number of MHPI housing projects have already incorporated those rights and many are providing all but the final right — standard documentation, focused on a universal lease framework.

"Military members and their families who are tenants of MHPI housing should check with the property manager or the government's installation housing office to confirm which of the tenant rights have been implemented at their installation," Cramer said.

The universal lease framework will standardize the general content of the MHPI tenant lease to the maximum extent possible given the need for tenant leases to comply with state and local requirements. MHPI housing projects at most installations will start using the new universal lease framework for prospective tenants entering a lease for new MHPI housing, typically when tenants have their next, permanent change-of-station move.
In addition to issuing the policies to implement all 18 tenant rights, the DOD has issued housing policies to strengthen the department’s oversight of MHPI housing projects. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has also established a deputy assistant defense secretary for housing to support the chief housing officer in oversight of the MHPI program.

"The department's priority going forward is to implement additional MHPI reforms that improve [the] safety, quality and maintenance of the privatized housing, and to ensure accountability at all levels within DOD and MHPI companies to perform housing oversight as originally intended at the outset of the MHPI program," Cramer said.