Military housewarming time
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
By William Cole
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — With a sleeping 5-month-old son on his shoulder, Spc. Omar Cherry got his first glimpse of the new home he and his family will move into today.
"This is the best thing that's happened to me and my family ever since we've been in the military as far as housing," said Cherry, 25, as he roamed about his three-bedroom, two-bath, two-story duplex.
The Army and Actus Lend Lease yesterday unveiled the first new homes in what will be the largest privatized community in U.S. military history.
The $2.33 billion project calls for construction of 5,388 homes on O'ahu, and the renovation or restoration of 2,506 existing homes during a 10-year initial development period.
Cherry, who has deployment orders that will take him to Iraq this summer, said knowing his wife and two children will be comfortable brings peace of mind.
Having the new home "lifts a tremendous burden off your shoulders during deployment," the Florida man said. "You can focus more on the mission and get the mission done without having to worry about home."
His wife, Joy, 24, called getting the new home a blessing.
"It's a major come-up from where we used to live," she said.
That was near Solomon Elementary in housing built in the 1950s.
"It was a challenging experience," she said. "Windows falling apart and insects coming in."
The military, realizing it couldn't build or renovate housing to decent standards fast enough, turned to the private sector to build, operate and maintain housing through the Military Housing Privatization Initiative of 1996.
A service member's housing allowance is used to manage and maintain homes and pay for the construction of new homes.
In October 2005, the Defense Department entered into 53 privatization projects nationwide involving more than 111,000 family housing units.
In a 50-year partnership between the Army and Actus Lend Lease, Army Hawai'i Family Housing receives a fee for property and maintenance management services.
A dedication ceremony, complete with the untying of maile lei, was held yesterday morning outside the first eight units, which are bundled as four duplexes in the new Kalakaua community. It is built on the former 1920s ironwood- and palm-lined golf course of the same name.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, said he remembers when housing conditions across the armed forces "were just miserable."
"That's what has to be taken into account — the quality of life," Abercrombie said, "and the principal aspect of quality of life is housing."
Steven Grimes, project director for Army Hawai'i Family Housing, said 640 homes are being built on the former golf course.
The homes range from 1,600 square feet to 3,000 square feet and have at least three bedrooms and lanais.
Actus, with 90 percent of its contracts awarded to locally owned companies, is nearly at the point where it is putting finishing touches on two homes a day in the Kalakaua community.
Work also has started on another neighborhood at Schofield that will have 450 homes, Grimes said. The first will be available in July or August.
The project includes Aliamanu Military Reservation, Fort Shafter, Wheeler Army Airfield, Helemano Military Reservation, Tripler Army Medical Center and a Coast Guard housing area at Red Hill.
Napa, Calif.-based Actus Lend Lease, a subsidiary of an Australian construction company, also was selected to replace and manage 1,356 housing units at Hickam Air Force Base, and a separate privatization effort is under way for Navy and Marine Corps homes.
Cherry, one of the Schofield soldiers being shown his new home for the first time yesterday, called it "beautiful."
"It's overwhelming. I mean, my expectations were high, but this just blows my expectations away," he said.
A fuel and supply specialist with a brigade support battalion, Cherry is scheduled to make his second deployment to Iraq this summer with 7,000 other Schofield soldiers. He served in Iraq with a Germany-based unit in 2004.
One of his new neighbors, Staff Sgt. Erasmo Flores, 24, yesterday checked out a new five-bedroom home with his wife, Lisa, and 2-year-old daughter Marissa, one of the couple's four children.
The Flores family has been living in "old, World War II-type housing" on base, the Texas man said. Flores, who deployed to Iraq in 2004, said he likes that his new place has five bedrooms, a one-car garage instead of a carport, and more storage space.
"We have four children in a three-bedroom home, and that was a little cramped," he said.
While Actus is demolishing old homes at Aliamanu Military Reservation to build new ones, some residents there are complaining they are stuck with moldy homes while the developer collects increased housing allowance to build new ones they won't see for years.
Some have been unable to get better housing even after years of trying to move.
Amy Anderson, whose husband is in the Navy, said her family was moved in August to another unit because of mold problems. But within months at the replacement unit, black splotches appeared on the bathroom ceiling, she said.
Anderson's monthly housing allowance, which goes to Army Hawai'i Family Housing, increased to $2,393 in January.
"What are they doing for all that money?" she asked.
Two of Anderson's neighbors also complained of mold problems.
Janine Lind, director of property management for Army Hawai'i Family Housing, said mold in Hawai'i is prevalent and hard to control.
When a resident brings a mold problem to the housing management's attention, "we will go out and do an assessment and do whatever remediation we need to take," Lind said.
"Before privatization, the Army never did anything about (Anderson's mold problems)."
Aliamanu has central air conditioning, and residents with mold problems sometimes keep their windows closed, and that lack of air flow increases mold growth, Lind said.
"We do make recommendations that at times you do need to air out your place, and let some air flow go through to prevent it."
Reach William Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org.