New bipartisan push looks to address hazardous homes for America's military families

By Alexander Tin

/ CBS News

Trump celebrates military mothers at ceremony

Two weeks after introducing legislation to address widespread complaints of hazardous conditions in America's privatized military housing, Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren penned an op-ed to explain her latest proposition.

"I have a plan to improve military housing and protect our military families from abuse," Warren wrote in a piece published Sunday in the Las Vegas Sun. "It starts with accountability, and it's pretty simple."

The presidential candidate's op-ed raised eyebrows in the early caucus state. Bombshell investigations over the controversy had featured scant complaints from service members in Nevada. And in interviews published by the state government, airmen in Nevada had repeatedly praised their "quality" living standards.

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But now Nevada's senior Democratic senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, is introducing legislation of her own to protect military families from unsafe homes. The bill expands a push from last year on the issue, and comes after revelations that officials had deferred preventative maintenance in a bid to cut costs at a Las Vegas-area air base.

With nearly 12 thousand personnel across two air bases and a test and training range, the military is one of southern Nevada's largest employers. Thousands more make up their dependent families in the state.

"It's unacceptable that military families are faced with living in poorly maintained housing, or newly constructed homes that are unsafe," Cortez Masto said in a statement.

Reps. Jimmy Panetta, a Democrat from California, and Richard Hudson, a Republican from North Carolina, are introducing the measure in the House.

"This legislation improves oversight and brings much-needed transparency and accountability," Hudson, whose district encompasses Fort Bragg, said in a statement.

Dubbed the "Better Military Housing Act of 2019," the measure demands a study by the Defense Department into ways to improve privatized military housing. The proposal also outlines minimum standards for the military's immediate response to safety and quality issues, including a "Tenants Bill of Rights" and a way for service members to raise housing complaints without fear of reprisal.

"The concerns of families are ignored, and families are expected to tolerate the conditions," found a survey by the Military Family Advisory Network, which was presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee in February.

The non-profit detailed fielding thousands of complaints of unsafe housing from families, spanning a range of hazards including lead paint, black mold, faulty wiring, and poor water quality.

"Several families reported the issues to base commanders, elected officials, and the Environmental Protection Agency, with little or no change or accountability," said the report.

First published on May 17, 2019 / 9:47 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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