Story by Frank Fisher, Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. — Officials here have worked up a plan they hope will shorten at least some of the wait time for military Families wanting to move into homes on Fort Benning this summer, the traditional peak season in which the Army moves many Soldiers to new assignments.
Their plan entails three key steps.
First, housing officials here will ask residents to give the earliest possible notice of when they’ll be moving out, and, second, once they know that, officials will get in for an early look at what they’ll have to do once the Family moves out, so the home can be fixed up for the Family coming in. Third, they’ll also add temporary staff to help with the added workload.
The demand for houses peaks during the three-month stretch from May through July, and officials here refer to it as “the surge.”
“That’s the hardest time, to get people out of their houses, get their homes prepared and ready for the next resident,” said Keith R. Lovejoy, Housing Division chief with U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning’s Directorate of Public Works (DPW).
Of the military Families who report here for new assignments each spring-summer, not all ask to be housed on the post.
But as many as 600 Families or more — 200 per month on average — ask to be housed in one of Fort Benning’s many housing areas.
That typically means being put on a waiting list, with the length of wait depending heavily on what type of home they’ve requested, as well as how many homes have been vacated and made ready for a new occupant.
Three main factors govern how long a wait people have: the number of Families wanting a home, the number of homes that will be become vacant, and the time needed to do the cleaning, painting and repair work to get those homes to the stringent, no-deficiencies standard the Army wants met before Families are allowed to move in.
“You’re really crunched during those three months of the year, trying to make sure you don’t put a lot of people in hotels, and you don’t have to wait three months to get in,” Lovejoy said. “It’s ‘All hands on deck’ during those 90 days.”
Some homes may need little more than basic cleaning and repair.
Others, though, may need much more. Special parts might have to be ordered, some that may take weeks to get if they’re not readily available from local vendors. New flooring may be needed, maybe a new garage door. That can add weeks to the process of getting a home ready.
But by hearing early from residents and doing that early inspection, they’ll know exactly what kind of work will have to be done, can order parts and other needed materials early in the game, and can line up any contractors whose specialized services might be needed.
That way, they’d have the needed materials, tools and people lined up and ready to go straight to work on getting the home ready for its next occupant.
And that early start, officials say, could enable them to get the home “turned” – the round of fix-ups that include cleaning, repairs, fresh paint – before bringing a new Family in.
Opting for a wait can have drawbacks.
“If their Families aren’t settled, then Soldiers have issues performing all their duties, performing at the top end of where they need to be performing at, because they’re worried about their Families,” Lovejoy said.
So the aim of cutting wait time is driving the plan to cut turnaround time.
“One house may take a week to turn because the resident’s been calling in work orders all the time and everything’s dress-right-dressed,” said Lovejoy. “They’ve been taking care of it.
“And then other homes may take three or four weeks because they just really went hard on the home and there’s a lot of maintenance to perform in that home prior to the next resident coming in,” he said.
Fort Benning oversees more than 4,000 Family homes, which are managed day to day by a private company, The Villages of Benning. Residents are required to notify The Villages of Benning 30 days from the time they’ll have to move out, or, when they receive official orders, which could be more or less than 30 days.
“That’s the minimum,” said Denise Bleiler, regional property manager with The Villages of Benning. “What we want is for people to let us know ahead. We would love to be able to know with enough time to get into the homes 90 days prior to somebody leaving. If we could have 120 days ahead of time that’s great.”
“Some items take longer to get, they’re not stocked locally through parts vendors or appliance vendors, so they take a longer lead time,” said Mike Snyder, The Villages of Benning’s maintenance facilities director.
“Appliance parts, say, internal parts for a refrigerator, or maybe shelves or maybe a door for a refrigerator,” he said. “Those aren’t necessarily stocked locally and require a bit more lead time to get.
“The point behind it,” said Snyder, “is, hey, let’s get in there. Let’s get ahead of the game so when they do move out, we’ve got all our parts ready. We can expedite that process and have a home ready much quicker than we’ve done before.”
Because part of their plan is to make sure tenants know that housing officials would like the earliest possible notice of a move, officials plan an information push using various means of reaching residents.
“It’ll be every forum that we possibly can,” said Lovejoy. “To let residents know that the earlier they let us know they’re leaving, the easier their transition’s going to be on the way out.”
Officials will use, among others means, posts to social media, and announcements at the community meetings officials hold periodically. Those include the quarterly housing town hall meetings the garrison established last year as part of a broader effort to improve housing services here.
In addition, The Villages of Benning will use the monthly newsletter it emails to all its Fort Benning tenants, as another way of encouraging them to give early notice of when they’ll be moving out, Bleiler said.
The other key element of the plan, to increase staffing, will be only temporarily for the surge. Both USAG Fort Benning and The Villages at Benning will add to their staffing help with inspections and other aspects of the effort to get homes turned faster.
“So that’s gonna help out,” Lovejoy said.
Just how much this summer’s wait will be on is too complex to predict, officials say. But based on the new measures they’ll take to cut turnaround times, they hope the wait might be shortened by as much as 30 percent, though even with such a cut, a wait of up to about 30 days could be possible, said Snyder.
One major factor that affects wait times at Fort Benning applies year-round: whether Families will take whatever home becomes available, or whether they’re wedded to getting a home of a specific type, perhaps within a specific housing area at Fort Benning, and perhaps even on a specific street, officials said.
While there might be other homes available to them on post, what they’re asking for might not be, thus prolonging their wait.
“That makes it a little bit more difficult when you’re really trying to home in on getting the exact thing that you want in the exact location on the exact street that you want and the exact unit type, for whatever reason,” said Lovejoy.
The Villages of Benning welcomes calls from military Families wanting to know what homes may be available and when. While what they’re looking for in a given housing area may not be available, that or something similar may be available in another of the areas.
Moreover, they can tell callers what the current wait status is for each area.
“When you call in and when you know you are coming here, we will also offer additional homes in different areas where the wait times might be less,” said Bleiler.
“While we still expect to have some wait time,” said Snyder, “we do have multiple options for housing that could potentially reduce wait times, depending on what the resident wants.”
“There’s always other alternatives,” Lovejoy said, “and that’s what we always tell people. How important is it for you to live on-post? And if it’s that important, make sure that you check all of your different options to figure out which one of these wait lists are gonna be the shortest to get you in to where you wanna be.”
Those wanting to check on availability of housing, including waiting times, can call The Villages of Benning at: 706-685-3939.
“That’s the best — the absolute best way,” said Lovejoy. “Physically call them and talk to the leasing people to find out exactly what the wait lists are, how long they are in the individual neighborhoods that they may be looking at.
“Hopefully, it won’t be as long as it was last summer,” Lovejoy said of the wait times. “You’re always going to have a wait list, whatever installation you go to. The intended outcome is to have people waiting the fewest number of days to receive housing if they choose to live on the installation,” he said. “Just cut the number of days that it takes to wait to get housing. That’s the biggest thing.”