Bryan Gossage, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, visited Fort Belvoir Friday to discuss housing with leadership, RCI partners and some residents. Gossage, who is the principal deputy advisor to the Secretary of the Army and Chief of Staff of the Army on all matters related to Installation policy, and privatization of Army family housing, said that he is seeing progress in improving the quality of privatized housing.
“From an installation and housing standpoint, there’s work to be done, and we’re getting after it,” Gossage said. “Our people
first strategy is something that we take seriously, along with our new Army installation strategy. When we execute on these things, we will be a better Army, and be a better Army for our Soldiers.”
Col. Joshua SeGraves, garrison commander, offered a status update on the 2,100 privatized homes on the installation in a meeting with Gossage and the RCI partners that own and manage the homes.
“The top three issues were HVAC remediation, electrical concerns and water intrusion, which is a problem with historic homes,” SeGraves said, noting that there is progress on all fronts. “When I took command, we were at 1,500 backlog work orders, some of that because of COVID,” SeGraves said.
SeGraves added that that number needs to be seen in context with more than 30,000 work orders placed each year.
Mayor Program unwinding issues
In order to improve communications and build esprit de corps, Belvoir initiated a mayor’s program, with each of the 15 villages having one of its residents assume the lead in outreach and resident communication, with several villages also having a deputy mayor to assist. Gossage said it is a strategy that is helping to unwind many issues.
“The mayor program is something that I’ve seen initiated as I’ve travelled to 12 states and 40 installations. There are places that have put the mayor program in place, and they have seen positive changes as a result,” Gossage said. “Clearly, having the mayor program is effective; it results in good things for Soldiers and for resolving issues for their families.”
Staff Sgt. Candice Vierling, the Vernondale Village mayor, said while there are some communications issues to be worked out, she can see a difference.
“Ever since the mayor program started for us, I feel that the residents are more comfortable talking to somebody, compared to constantly reaching out to a community manager or Michaels,” she said. “I’m in charge of 164 homes, and I think that I’m just another voice that residents can come and talk to, if they don’t have anyone else to talk to or feel comfortable talking to someone else. As a mayor, another person to talk to is really good. I’ve had a positive time being a mayor and I love helping people, so this has been good for me as well.”
Following a windshield tour of the installation with Gossage and inspection of one of the homes, the group met with several mayors Friday afternoon. SeGraves said the monumental scale of the housing issues is not something that can be solved quickly, but noted the numbers indicate significant improvement.
“We know there’s going to be bumps in the road, and it’s not a 100 percent solution overnight, but these mayors are making a difference,” said SeGraves. “When you take Gen. McConville and the Army’s policy of people first, these mayors are making a difference in their residents’ lives every single day. I’m hearing individual stories from residents, and through Jennifer (Hudson, Fort Belvoir Garrison’s Ombudsman), on the things the mayors are doing. So, when you talk about a People First strategy, they are executing that on the ground for Soldiers at Fort Belvoir, and it’s not just Soldiers, because as I’d mentioned, we’re a 77 percent joint installation. Mayors are making it a better community.”
Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Unruh, a deputy mayor, has lived on Fort Belvoir five years, and agreed that communication among his neighbors in the community has moved the dial.
“I’ve been doing this for six months, trying to help the mayor tie up loose ends and learn what it takes to be a mayor. The Service member to Service member contact I’m having in my community seems very effective, and the family members seem to approach the mayor program a lot more positively than they have with reaching out to housing or the garrison, so it’s been a positive moment for me.”
Some of the tools employed by the mayor program includes a dedicated Facebook community for each Village; monthly coordination meetings with mayors and property management; a monthly newsletter from the mayor; and a quarterly site walk by the mayor to revise the Village’s action plan.