California's senators have sent a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the head of a public-private partnership providing on-base housing, calling on them to improve housing conditions for Marines after an explosive new report detailed squalid conditions and deterioration.
The letter, sent by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala D. Harris, both Democrats, cited a Nov. 1 investigation by Reuters that reported serious deficiencies and health hazards in base housing at Camp Pendleton, California.
Interviews with 100 families turned up reports of mouse infestations, severe mold outbreaks, cockroaches, roof leaks and more. Families said Lincoln Military Housing, the contractor that manages most on-base housing, took some mitigating actions, but did not do enough to address concerns and keep houses livable.
"We are deeply concerned and disappointed about recent reports of unsuitable housing conditions at Camp Pendleton. Members of our military and their families sacrifice greatly to keep our nation safe, and the very least we can do in return is ensure their housing is safe and sanitary," the senators wrote to Mattis and Tim Byrne, CEO of Lincoln, in a Nov. 5 letter. "We urge Lincoln Military Housing to work with the Department of Defense (DOD) to immediately resolve the issues identified in these reports."
Feinstein and Harris called for a response by Nov. 15 regarding the military and Lincoln's strategy to address existing problems and implement corrective actions at Pendleton and other military bases with similar problems.
They asked whether the Defense Department would provide a plan to offer medical treatment to those whose health had been affected by bad housing conditions and called for a report on military housing partner companies "that have been similarly unable to meet the minimum health and safety standards" required for military families.
"As long as these disturbing living conditions are allowed to continue, many Camp Pendleton Marines will be unable to deploy with the peace of mind that their families are safe at home," they wrote. "We are extremely troubled that a culture has developed that appears to prize profit at the expense of the health and safety of our military families. In spite of current policy limitations, cooperation between the military and privatized housing companies should provide the best protection of our military families possible."
The president of Lincoln, Jarl Bliss, did not dispute Reuters' report about the condition of certain homes, but told the outlet that they represented exceptions to the rule.
"We can't run 36,000 homes and do all the services that we provide across these branches of government and have a 100 percent success rate," he told Reuters. " ... The families have a choice. [...] They don't have to live with us."
There are 7,900 total housing units on base at Pendleton, according to the report.