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‘They are not doing their jobs’

TAMPA — U.S. Rep. Gus Biliarkis blasted the private firms that manage the on-base housing at MacDill Air Force on Thursday after touring two homes that military families say are plagued by mold and other substandard living conditions.

“I am very disappointed,” he said of the companies that own and oversee 527 homes at MacDill. “They are not doing their jobs and there is no certainty for these families.”

The Palm Harbor Republican also called for the Air Force to go above and beyond what it has already proposed to fix the housing woes afflicting military families across the nation.

“I want the (Air Force Inspector General) to come down and conduct a formal inspection and investigation to determine exactly what happened, who is at fault, and whether this was wilful negligence,” Bilirakis said after he visited the homes and met with MacDill’s commander, Air Force Col. Steve Snelson.

The Congressman also called for on-base housing to be examined by professional home inspectors.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: MacDill penalizes base housing operator over mold as Bilirakis launches congressional inquiry

Bilirakis’ statements come after Tampa Bay Times reported on problems with MacDill’s on-base housing. Those issues include health problems families believe are related to mold, leaks, animal infestation, and slow or non-existent responses from housing management officials.

Reuters reported on the problems last year, which led to last week’s Congressional hearings. After the Times reported on MacDill’s issues, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein ordered base commanders on Feb. 15 to conduct a “100 percent review of our military housing to ensure the health and safety of Airmen and their families” by no later than March 1 — the end of next week.

But Bilirakis said that isn’t enough because base officials are not housing experts. They need more resources.

The Congressman said Snelson is “doing all he can do” to deal with the problems, but pointed out that the MacDill base commander does not have the funds to hire outside third-party experts to inspect on-base homes. Bilirakis said he will try to find the money to make that happen.

Air Force officials said late Thursday that they needed more time to respond to Bilirakis’ comments.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: MacDill families hope Congressional hearings on moldy housing will spur action

Bilirakis said that he toured two homes. In one, a woman said she was getting sick from mold exposure after arriving in August and that officials from Michaels Military Housing, the management company, were slow to respond. When they did respond, Bilirakis said she told him it was inadequate.

In the second home he visited, residents complained about mushrooms growing inside, near the bathtub.

Neither family wanted to be identified, said the congressman’s spokeswoman Summer Robertson. Both military members were concerned that they could lose their top secret security clearances by going public with the housing problems.

However, other families have come forward, Housing management officials were scheduled to attend a meeting organized by Amie Norquist, a mother of four and spouse of an Army officer.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Combat veteran on mold problem: ‘MacDill was the worst place I ever lived.’

Norquist said that earlier in the day, she was contacted by U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-California, who chairs the Readiness subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. Last week Garamendi held a closed-door roundtable session on the housing problems. Norquist also wanted copies of records pertaining to her families’ health issues related to mold exposure.

Since 2007, MacDill’s 527 homes have been run by Harbor Bay at MacDill. It is a partnership between Clarke Realty Builders and Michaels Management Services, which oversees housing management at MacDill.

Michaels president Ronald Hansen said that after a town hall meeting earlier this week, nearly 30 people have come forward with complaints about possible mold issues.

He met with residents for two hours on Thursday evening. Hansen said he wanted to show them that his companies have been in business for years and meet all state requirements and follow procedures.

“We are sorry to hear that,” Hansen said in regards to Bilirakis’ comments. He said his company will increase inspections and testing and offer remediation to alleviate the problems at its houses.

“We have implemented a number of initiatives to resolve issues and held a meeting tonight to gain reaction from residents,” Hansen said. “Enough talking, time for doing.”

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112 . Follow @haltman

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