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Air Force Secretary to visit MacDill on Wednesday to hear families talk about housing woes

The visit comes after Tampa Bay Times stories on mold and other issues on privatized base housing
In the wake of reporting by the Tampa Bay Times about mold and other problems in privatized housing at MacDill Air Force Base, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has scheduled a visit to the base Wednesday and plans to meet with affected families.
In the wake of reporting by the Tampa Bay Times about mold and other problems in privatized housing at MacDill Air Force Base, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has scheduled a visit to the base Wednesday and plans to meet with affected families.
Published Feb. 25, 2019

TAMPA — U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is coming to MacDill Air Force Base on Wednesday to speak with families affected by mold and other problems at privatized housing on base.

Her visit comes in the wake of Tampa Bay Times reports that dozens of families have reported mold and other issues and that many are complaining of health problems and of slow or non-existent responses by housing management officials.

Wilson is the latest high-profile official to visit the base since the Times first wrote about the mold. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis have come to MacDill in recent days to investigate the housing problems. In addition, Bilirakis (R-Palm Harbor) and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan(R-Sarasota) have launched Congressional inquiries and base officials have penalized Michaels Housing Management by reducing the amount of money paid out in performance bonus incentives.

Base officials declined to comment about Wilson's visit. But in a message to the base delivered Sunday, Air Force Col. Steve Snelson, MacDill's commander, said that as part of her day Wilson will hold a listening session with affected current and former residents.

Despite a recent town hall meeting with Snelson and a forum with housing management and ownership officials, many families remain unsatisfied.

"This should have been championed before these homes got this bad," said Amie Norquist, wife of an Army officer and mother of four who says her family has suffered health problems as a result of mold exposure at MacDill housing. "I fear that she is going to get a one-sided representation of the issues in order to save face for the base."

Her oldest child is scheduled for a lung biopsy Tuesday.

"I have some major concerns with the implementation already with the reported lack of response for some of the people still living in these conditions on base," said Traci Lenz, wife of an Air Force non-commissioned officer and mother of three whose family has suffered health issues they believe resulted from mold in their base housing. "We also were made promises by the president of The Micheals Organization that are already not being upheld."

Josh Collins is a Green Beret sergeant major who has earned two Purple Heart medals and a Bronze Star for valor. Like many others, he said his family has had health problems they believe is related to mold at base housing. He and another senior enlisted leader on base filed complaints with the base Inspector General's office.

"There is a lot of lips service that is taking place," he said. "Actions have to take place. These actions start by taking care of the service members."

Among other remedies, the Air Force is considering the creation of a tenants bill of rights that could give those living in base housing the ability to withhold rent payments until disputes can be adjudicated by a third party. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) is working on legislation that would give base commanders power to withhold payments, require management firms to reimburse tenants for damages incurred, pay moving expenses and terminate contracts.

In addition to Wilson's visit, the Air Force Inspection Agency, which provides independent inspection, evaluation and oversight, visited Monday with MacDill families affected by mold. Those sessions come ahead of a March 1 deadline imposed by Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein for base commanders to complete a "100 percent review" of military housing to ensure the health and safety of airmen and families.

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 he welcomes Wilson's visit.

"I welcome people coming to see for themselves the homes at MacDill," he said. "I still think the homes are desirable and most families are enjoying them. I think our initiatives will respond to current concerns."

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112 . Follow@haltman .