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Housing uncertainty threatens military life, readiness

Keller Field of Honor honors veterans, military, first repsonders

More than 1,400 U.S. flags will be be flown in front of Keller Town Hall to pay tribute to veterans, active and reserve military personnel and first responders, according to organizers of the Keller Field of Honor.
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More than 1,400 U.S. flags will be be flown in front of Keller Town Hall to pay tribute to veterans, active and reserve military personnel and first responders, according to organizers of the Keller Field of Honor.

Texas is home to 13 military installations with a range of duties, including training troops, maintaining equipment and overseeing defense contracts.

When service members at these installations are called away from their families for duty, they should not have to worry about the conditions of their on-base housing. They deserve homes and community amenities that improve their quality of life just as their civilian counterparts have.

Providing these accommodations for families living in one of the 15,227 units across the state requires out-of-the-box thinking and full, consistent funding.

After decades of neglect and deterioration of on-base housing under the Department of Defense, Congress authorized the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) in 1996. A first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, MHPI was designed to build new housing communities, renovate DoD housing and improve community amenities such as playgrounds, trails and recreational facilities.

Highly detailed financial plans, with 50-year projections, were developed for each project. Those plans relied on full financing from the Basic Allowance for Housing, which each soldier receives for housing costs.

As a direct result, military housing underwent an extensive makeover for the first time since the 1970s. Access to housing amenities such as energy-efficient appliances, high-speed internet, fenced in yards, modern interiors, community centers and wellness facilities improved the quality of life for service members and their families.

These enhancements to DoD communities also improved military readiness and positively impacted state and local economies. The latest state of Texas statistics show the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base strengthened the Texas economy in 2017 by contributing an estimated $3.95 billion.

In 2014, Congress reversed its funding agreement for MHPI projects by reducing the annual percentage of BAH received. This lowered the revenue into the projects (as BAH is the sole revenue source for MHPI projects) available for debt payments, operations and maintenance, and recapitalization. MHPI housing partners were further directed by the DoD to reassess the operations and reinvestment approach at each project to include planned renovations and development schedules, as well as readjusting staffing and maintenance procedures.

These changes put at risk the quality of life for military service members and their families living on military installations and, ultimately, impact the readiness of the services.

Within a few short years, Congress recognized this risk and full BAH for service members living in MHPI housing was restored. However, it requires ongoing commitment and funding by DoD to ensure its success. Without such a permanent funding commitment, the risk to military readiness will increase. This begins with the FY20 Budget.

Public-private partnerships (P3s) have played an important role in the development of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, as evidenced by the more than 50 public-private partnerships that have been implemented in North Texas over the last five to 10 years.

The success of the MHPI proves P3s have the ability to continue improving the quality of military housing and serve as the foremost case study for leveraging private sector funding.

The lesson should not be lost on Congress, or this administration, that altering the foundational funding premise of P3s mid-course can negatively impact their outcomes.

Sinclair Cooper is president of the Public Infrastructure Development Division of Hunt Companies, Inc. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr.Cooper is responsible for the development of institutional public-private partnership opportunities throughout the United States and is an executive leader of Hunt’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative. Hunt is the largest military housing developer in the U.S.
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