Senator Warren Presses Army Leadership on Military Housing Crisis, Need for Safe Accommodations

“No landlord should be able to make military families sign NDAs in exchange for providing basic housing. Period.”

Video of Exchange (01:32:11-01:38:07)

Elizabeth Warren Reads The Valley Patriot
Elizabeth Warren Reads The Valley Patriot

Washington, D.C. — Today, at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned Army Secretary Christine Wormuth on the need to increase military housing availability and the damaging impact of non-disclosure agreements between private landlords, service members, and their families on housing safety.

In response to Senator Warren’s questions, Secretary Wormuth confirmed meeting military families’ housing needs is important for recruiting and retaining a strong military. She also supported using the Defense Community Infrastructure Program to address housing shortfalls, adding that “additional authority for housing is always helpful.” “

Senator Warren then expressed concern over private contractors trying to silence military families concerned about mold, broken windows, and the overall safety of their housing through nondisclosure agreements. Secretary Wormuth agreed with Senator Warren that the use of these nondisclosure agreements are inappropriate and need to be restricted.

Senator Warren concluded by calling out General George, pressing him to deliver on his promise to provide “quality barracks to our soldiers.”

Transcript: To Receive Testimony on the Posture of the Department of the Army in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2025 and the Future Years Defense Program

U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
Thursday, March 14, 2024 

Senator Warren: So, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Our military families sacrifice a lot to serve their country and to keep Americans safe. And one thing they shouldn’t have to worry about is whether they’re going to have a safe and affordable place to live.

We provide basic housing allowance and other assistance to make sure that military families have what they need. But often, that is just not enough.

For example, the commander at Fort Carson in Colorado has 26,000 people working on post, but he is able to offer only 3,100 family housing units. What’s available off base is often very expensive, or requires a very long commute to get there. All because we simply don’t have enough housing for our people.

So, Secretary Warmoth, you oversee everything for the Army from personnel to equipment. Do you think that meeting military families’ housing needs is important, both for recruiting and retaining a strong military?

Secretary Wormuth: Absolutely, it’s very important.

Senator Warren: Okay. I agree with you. And that’s why Congress created the Defense Community Infrastructure Program to help communities address, and I’m going to read, “deficiencies in community infrastructure supportive of a military installation.”

Now DCIP provides grants to local governments for transportation, building, and other infrastructure projects.

Secretary Warmoth, would you support using this program to build more housing in communities near bases in order to help us continue — excuse me — to attract the best and brightest to serve in our military?

Secretary Wormuth: Senator Warren, this is a program that’s run by OSD. And like you said, it’s generally grants to the communities. So, I know, we do use it for things like assessments of utilities and things like that in partnership with, with communities where we have our installations.

You know, I think additional authority for housing is always helpful. The real challenge, though, with housing is money, you know, at the end of the day—

Senator Warren: I understand that, but you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

So, let’s start with the idea of recognizing we are in a housing crisis, and making this a priority in terms of getting funding in for housing for our military. Does that work for you?

Secretary Wormuth: Yes. And we’re certainly trying to find, you know, for example, with our privatized housing partners, we’re trying to find more ways to help get money into that portfolio.

Senator Warren: Oh I’m coming to that. Okay, I’m coming to that.

Let me mention one other problem here. I have concerns about the safety of the housing we provide to service members and their families.

Now, Congress recently adopted reforms to address housing deficiencies, including requiring the DoD to create a public complaint database to put a stop to government contractors acting like slumlords, and then hiding settlements when they get caught.

I got that bill passed five years ago — five years. And today, DoD still does not have that database up and operational. Even worse, these government contractors continue to muzzle military families by requiring them to sign non-disclosure agreements.

So, there is no record of the mold or the broken windows or the water damage or the rats, or any other unsafe housing conditions that military families are forced to put up with.

Secretary Warmoth, do you think it is appropriate for government contractors to ask military families to stay silent in return for those companies meeting their basic obligations to provide safe housing?

Secretary Wormuth: We encourage our soldiers and their families to use the dispute resolution process.

Senator Warren: Yeah, well, the part I’m worried about are the non-disclosure agreements that come out of that, the NDAs.

Secretary Wormuth: What I would say about that, Senator, is I think, you know, we appreciate the provision that you put in that basically requires that their soldiers have ten days before they’re even asked to sign an NDA. And what we do is offer a lawyer that the Army will pay for, to advise our soldiers and family members of their rights before they contemplate signing an NDA.

Senator Warren: I appreciate that that’s better than it used to be, but it’s not as good as it ought to be.

Last year’s NDAA put in restrictions on the use of non-disclosure agreements. I just think we’re going to have to set a much brighter line. No landlord should be able to make military families sign NDAs in exchange for providing basic housing. Period. No NDAs on that.

Before I close, I want to say one other thing, and I’ll just say it quickly, and that’s to you, General George.

There is a significant disconnect between Army rhetoric and action.

When you were confirmed, you told this committee, quote, “I will make every effort to honor our commitment by providing quality barracks to our soldiers.”

Sounded great. But, on your unfunded priorities list — the list of things that you were not willing to fight for for funding in your basic budget — right near the bottom of your unfunded priorities list is money to repair the barracks in Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

You can’t stand up and say you care about housing your people and then not make housing repairs a part of your base budget. There’s no surprise here. It was deteriorating, and deteriorating over a long period of time.

So, I want to work with the Army on this. I know I’m over time, but we got to stop playing games on this and follow through. We have to deliver better housing for our people.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.