Reflecting on 20 years of housing transformation

In late September 2015, Air Force leaders joined Corvias Military Living at Hurlburt Field, Florida, to celebrate the delivery of 145 brand-new housing units. 

After the speeches were done, the ribbon cut and the crowd dispersed, Master Sgt. John Campbell, his wife Nicole and their two sons stepped through the front door as the first residents of their new home.

The journey that brought the Campbell family to the stoop of a new home at Hurlburt Field began 20 years ago with military housing privatization legislation. Back then, Air Force Housing was in an unacceptable state, with roughly half the homes in the inventory falling below established Air Force standards. 

The Air Force housing transformation began in 1998 when we closed the first housing deal at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. That project delivered 420 brand-new units and solidified the Air Force’s commitment to establish an Air Force-wide program. 

Two decades, $8.3 billion and 53,240 homes later, we’re one restructure away from 100-percent privatization of family housing for contiguous U.S. bases. 

Through private industry, we’ve accomplished in 13 years what would have taken at least 32 years using traditional military construction processes. In that time we have seen resident satisfaction steadily climb. In the past decade, overall resident satisfaction improved three service levels, rising from “below average” to “very good.” 

With a majority of projects beyond the Initial Development Phase, the inventory will soon face the first cycle of replacements. This will place the first demands on capital repair and replacement resources, and test the program’s financial structure.  As we shift our focus from project execution to post-closing management, we must ensure projects are financially self-sustaining. 

From the cost of initial construction, renovations, maintenance and operation, to costs associated with out-year development and sustainment plans, the entire program depends on income derived from occupancy.  

As of December 2015, occupancy for available units portfolio wide averaged 95.5 percent — a half percent more than what’s needed to maintain program viability. Although only 13 of 67 bases ultimately fell below the 95-percent threshold, 44 elected to still use the Other Eligible Tenant priority list to maximize project revenue. The increase in occupied units earned the program an estimated $2.1 million in additional revenue for the month of December alone. 

The connection between strong project performance, steady occupancy and high resident satisfaction endures across the portfolio. 

For example, at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, Forest Hills Military Communities and the Housing Management Office worked together to improve customer satisfaction. Using feedback from the 2014 resident satisfaction survey, the team improved inadequate lighting in and around the housing area. The project owner also increased the number of community events and maintained an “on time” response for 98 percent of all service calls. 

The effort paid off. With a resident satisfaction score of 91.8 percent, JB-CHS received the highest approval rating in the portfolio for 2015.

Privatization transformed more than housing communities and services; it also transformed an entire career field. 

Lareen Parkinson was part of the housing team at Hill Air Force Base when Congress passed MHPI legislation in 1996. It wasn’t until September 2005 that Hill’s housing was privatized and ownership shifted to Boyer Hill. Parkinson went from overseeing maintenance and programming for projects, to managing program compliance. 

Parkinson quickly discovered the vital role HMOs fill as liaisons between the PO and the Air Force. From helping the private sector understand military culture, to communicating program intricacies to base leadership — HMOs are the heart of the program. 

Today, Hill AFB boasts one of the strongest projects in the Air Force program. Hill’s exceptional performance is attributed to the partnership between the PO and HMO. In addition to regular coordination meetings, the base commander also has an open-door policy for housing matters. 

With leadership tuned into housing operations, the Hill housing team has levied leadership support to meet long-term sustainability needs. For example, they recently submitted a proposal for a reinvestment project. If approved, Boyer Hill would tap into their reinvestment account to begin to replace some of the older homes that weren’t part of initial development. This foresight and planning is vital to sustaining projects for future generations of Air Force families.

Eventually, the Campbell family’s time in their new home will come to an end. And while they might not be the first residents to live in their next home, through the efforts of the last 20 years, they can expect to live in a thriving community that puts Airmen first — that’s the new standard for military living.