As Disability Awareness Month comes to a close, we take this opportunity to reflect on the incredible journey of empowerment and inclusivity for military families with disabled members. Armed Forces Housing Advocates (AFHA) has been at the forefront of championing this cause, along with our network partners at Exceptional Families of the Military, creating a nurturing environment that celebrates diversity and supports families facing unique challenges. In this blog, we highlight the remarkable achievements of Disability Awareness Month and the ongoing commitment of AFHA to make a positive impact on the lives of military families.

Breaking Barriers: Celebrating Diversity

Throughout this past month, we've witnessed the power of unity and celebration of diversity. Disability Awareness Month allowed us to amplify the voices of military families with disabled members, giving them a platform to share their stories and struggles. By breaking barriers and encouraging open conversations, we've taken significant strides towards building a more inclusive military community.

AFHA: Pioneering Inclusive Housing Solutions

At AFHA, our dedication to creating a supportive environment for military families with disabled members goes beyond just words. We've been actively working towards providing fully accessible and accommodating housing solutions, ensuring that every family member feels valued and empowered. Our commitment to the principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Fair Housing Act (FHA) has enabled us to meet the unique needs of our residents.

One of AFHA's primary goals is to ensure fair and equal access to housing for all military families, irrespective of their rank. The rank band policy, which limits housing options based on a service member's rank, presents challenges for families with disabled members, as it restricts their choices and accessibility to suitable housing. As part of our advocacy efforts, AFHA has been working tirelessly with military authorities and policymakers to both remind privatized military housing companies that they should always utilize the Exception to Policy for rank band issues and someday eliminate this policy and implement a more inclusive approach to housing allocation.

Through persistent dialogue, collaboration with military leadership, and raising awareness about the impact of the rank band policy on military families, we have made significant strides towards its improvement. Our efforts have been bolstered by the support of individuals like you, who share our vision of a military community that fosters inclusivity and equal opportunities for all its members.

Spotlight on Success Stories

Throughout Disability Awareness Month, we've had the privilege of witnessing heartwarming success stories from families who have found solace and support within our communities. From providing much-needed air conditioning during sweltering summers to guiding families on how to find respite care for parents, these stories remind us of the transformative impact that AFHA's initiatives can have on the lives of military families.

Additionally, we have sought to empower military families with emotional support and service animals. Recognizing the profound positive impact of emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals on the well-being of individuals with disabilities, AFHA has been actively helping military families utilize the law to ensure their right to have these animals in their homes.

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), individuals with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations, including the presence of ESAs or service animals, even in housing with no-pet policies. However, navigating the legal process to secure these accommodations can be challenging for many families. AFHA has set up a dedicated team who are Fair Housing Act Specialists to provide support and guidance to military families seeking to have emotional support or service animals in their homes. Our team works closely with families, housing providers, and military housing office advocates to streamline the process, ensuring that military families with disabilities can fully exercise their rights under the law.

By advocating for the rights of military families to have emotional support and service animals, we are fostering a more compassionate and understanding environment within the military community. These animals play a crucial role in enhancing the quality of life for individuals with disabilities, providing them with much-needed emotional support and assistance.

Empowering the Future: What Lies Ahead

As we bid farewell to Disability Awareness Month, our commitment to empowering military families remains unwavering. AFHA will continue to expand its support services, ensuring access to resources such as full home mold inspections, mold test kits, water quality testing, and much more. Our vision is to create a lasting impact on the lives of those who have sacrificed so much for our nation.

We express our heartfelt gratitude to all those who have supported our mission. At AFHA, we believe that a truly empowered military community embraces and celebrates the diversity of its members. Together, let's continue our journey towards fostering an environment where every military family, regardless of ability, finds the support and care they deserve. Readiness starts with a safe home!

Help us spread the message of inclusivity and empowerment! Share this blog and join us in making a positive impact on the lives of military families with disabled members.

Boosting Disability Awareness in Google Search Results

To ensure that our message reaches as many people as possible, we request your assistance in boosting this blog in Google search results. By using the following keywords when sharing or searching for this blog, you can help us raise awareness and make a greater impact:

As we enter the month of May, we are reminded that it is Military Appreciation Month, a time when we honor and show our gratitude to the brave men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. This month provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families, and to recognize the importance of supporting them in every way we can.

One crucial aspect of supporting our military members is ensuring that they have safe and adequate housing. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. Over the past several years, there have been numerous reports of substandard housing conditions in privatized military housing, which have had a significant impact on the health and well-being of military families.

These reports have prompted action from advocacy groups like Armed Forces Housing Advocates, who work tirelessly to ensure that military families can access safe and affordable housing. One of the ways we do this is by raising awareness about the importance of safe and well-maintained housing for military families, particularly during Military Appreciation Month.

Safe housing is not just a matter of comfort or convenience - it is a matter of national security. Our military personnel need a safe and secure place to call home to rest, recharge, and prepare for their missions. Military families living in substandard housing conditions can impact their health and well-being and even their ability to fulfill their duties.

That is why organizations like ours are working to ensure military families have access to safe and well-maintained housing. We advocate for improved housing standards, increased transparency and accountability from private housing companies, legislation that will make positive changes for the MHPI project, and better resources and support for military families struggling with housing issues.

This Military Appreciation Month, we can all show our support for the military by advocating for safe and adequate housing for military families. Donating to organizations like Armed Forces Housing Advocates, writing to our elected officials about the importance of safe housing for our military personnel, and raising awareness about this critical issue in our communities all ensure that readiness starts with a safe home.

In conclusion, Military Appreciation Month is a time to honor and recognize the sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families. It is also a time to reflect on the importance of providing safe and well-maintained housing for our military families. By supporting organizations like Armed Forces Housing Advocates and advocating for better housing standards, we can help ensure that our military personnel have the support and resources they need to serve our country with honor and dignity.

April is recognized as the Month of the Military Child, a time to honor and celebrate the resilience and sacrifices of the children of military families. These young ones face unique challenges, including frequent moves, deployment of a parent, and adjustment to new environments. As we highlight the Month of the Military Child, it's essential to shine a light on the importance of supporting the mental health of these children, particularly in the context of privatized military housing.

Privatized military housing has been a topic of concern in recent years, with reports of substandard living conditions affecting the well-being of military families, including their children. A study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that issues such as mold, pest infestations, and poor maintenance in privatized military housing can have a detrimental impact on the mental health of military children. The stress of living in unsafe or unhealthy conditions can exacerbate existing mental health challenges or contribute to the development of new ones, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children.

It is crucial to address the mental health needs of military children and provide them with the support they deserve. Here are some resources that can help military families and their children during the Month of the Military Child and beyond:

  1. National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) - NCTSN provides a range of resources and support for military children who may be experiencing trauma or stress due to their unique circumstances. They offer evidence-based interventions, educational materials, and access to trained professionals. Military families can call 1-800-745-5115 or visit www.nctsn.org for more information.
  2. Military OneSource - As a comprehensive resource for military families, Military OneSource offers confidential counseling and support services for children and adolescents, including mental health resources. Families can access these services by visiting www.militaryonesource.mil or calling 1-800-342-9647.
  3. National Military Family Association (NMFA) - NMFA provides a wide range of resources and support for military families, including information on mental health services for military children. Families can visit www.militaryfamily.org or call 1-800-260-0218 to access their services and support.
  4. Military Family Life Counselors (MFLCs) - MFLCs are licensed counselors who provide short-term, non-medical counseling to military children and their families. They are available at no cost and can offer support for various mental health concerns. Families can inquire about MFLC services through their installation's Family Readiness Center or Military and Family Support Center.
  5. TRICARE - TRICARE is the healthcare program for military families and offers mental health services for children and adolescents, including counseling and therapy. Families can visit www.tricare.mil/mentalhealth or contact their TRICARE regional contractor for more information on accessing mental health services.

In addition to seeking professional support, there are steps that military families can take to promote positive mental health for their children. These include open communication, maintaining routines and stability, fostering social connections, and encouraging healthy coping skills such as exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques.

As we celebrate the Month of the Military Child, let's remember the importance of supporting the mental health of these young heroes. By advocating for safe and healthy living conditions in privatized military housing, and accessing available mental health resources, we can help ensure that military children receive the care and support they need to thrive. Let's continue to honor and support the resilience of military children, not just during the Month of the Military Child, but throughout the year. They deserve our unwavering support and appreciation for their sacrifices. #MonthOfTheMilitaryChild #MilitaryChildMentalHealth

If you're a military service member or a military family, you're likely no stranger to the challenges of Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves. Moving to a new duty station can be both exciting and overwhelming, and one of the key aspects of a successful PCS move is finding suitable military housing. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the ins and outs of PCS moves into military housing to help you navigate this process with ease.

What is PCS?

First, let's clarify what PCS means. PCS stands for Permanent Change of Station, which refers to the relocation of military personnel and their families to a new duty station. PCS moves can occur within the same country or internationally, and they typically involve a change in duty station due to assignments, promotions, or other military-related reasons.

Types of Military Housing

Military housing options can vary depending on the location, rank, and availability. Here are some common types of military housing:

  1. On-Base Housing: Also known as government-owned housing, this is housing provided by the military on a military installation. On-base housing can include single-family homes, townhomes, or apartments, and is managed by the installation's housing office.
  2. "MHPI"/Off-Base Housing: Also referred to as privatized military housing or Public-Private Venture (PPV) housing, this is housing managed by private companies in partnership with the military. 99% of military housing is now a part of this privatized venture, or "Military Housing Privatization Initiative." MHPI housing can be located in close proximity to the military installation, or on the installation, and can include a variety of housing options, ranging from single-family homes to apartments.
  3. DoD Housing Allowance (BAH): If on-base or off-base housing is not available or suitable, service members may be eligible for a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which is a monthly stipend provided by the Department of Defense (DoD) to cover housing expenses. Service members can use the BAH to rent or purchase a home in the civilian community.

PCS Moves into Military Housing: Step-by-Step Guide

PCS moves into military housing involve several steps, and being well-prepared can make the process smoother. Here's a step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Research and Planning

Before your PCS move, it's essential to research the housing options available at your new duty station. Check the housing office website or contact them directly to gather information about on-base or off-base housing, waitlists, application procedures, and eligibility requirements. If considering off-base housing, research the privatized housing companies in the area and their reputation.

Step 2: Apply for Military Housing

Once you have identified your preferred housing option, submit your application as early as possible to increase your chances of securing a spot. Follow the application procedures provided by the housing office or the privatized housing company, and provide all required documents, such as orders, identification, and any other requested information.

Step 3: Attend Housing Briefings

Many military installations require service members and their families to attend housing briefings to familiarize themselves with the housing policies, procedures, and rules. These briefings provide important information on topics such as move-in and move-out procedures, maintenance requests, and community amenities.

Step 4: Prepare for Your Move

As with any PCS move, be sure to plan and prepare for your move into military housing. Make a packing and moving timeline, arrange for transportation, and coordinate with your current and new housing offices or privatized housing company for move-in dates, keys, and other details. Be aware of any specific rules or regulations related to military housing, such as pet policies or smoking restrictions.

Step 5: Conduct Move-In Inspection

Upon arrival at your new duty station, conduct a thorough move-in inspection of your military housing. Document any existing damages or issues. Click on our "Lease Checklist" for help!

Need more resources? Check out PCS Like A Pro!

Observe Window Safety Year Round

Eight Tips for Window Safety Week

As spring arrives, the Window Safety Task Force in partnership with the National Safety Council and Armed Forces Housing Advocates encourages parents and caregivers to recognize the importance of practicing window safety year-round. Window Safety Week is observed during the first full week of April each year. However, open windows can be dangerous any time of year for young children who are not properly supervised.

Each year, the Window Safety Task Force takes the first week in April to educate about the importance of practicing window safety year-round. AFHA is joining in on the cause, as window safety is close to our hearts, with two families on our team that sadly are part of a club that no one wants to join-window fall families.

Falls from a window can result in serious injury or death and pose an especially dangerous threat for children. Every year, about eight children under age five die from falling out a window, and more than 3,300 are injured seriously enough to go to the hospital.* What's more, according to Karen Jowers at the Military Times, "Fifteen children fell out of windows in privatized housing between 2017 and 2021, the latest year for which the Defense Department had figures. At least three more have fallen this year [2022]. Fortunately, none were killed in the past five years, but some suffered serious injuries. In 2011, however, a child was killed in a fall."

It only takes seconds for a preventable window fall to occur. To avoid these needless tragedies, it is very important for parents and caregivers to take steps to prevent home falls. At AFHA, we always suggest that families approached their MHPI housing company and ask for window guards, or at the least, window locks. For example, Aurora Military Housing in Anchorage has now added window limiters and guards to their self-help portal. Ohana Military Housing in Hawaii provides and installs window safety devices for second story windows by resident request. And according to their most recent resident message, Liberty Military Housing will install WOCDs for sills 25 inches and below. We are appreciative of the efforts to move the needle on window safety, and are hopeful that all housing companies will come to the same conclusion we have-the spirit of Evan's Law calls to install window fall prevention devices-window guards-in all MHPI homes that need them, at no charge, in order to save our children's lives.

To protect children, the Window Safety Task Force at FGIA and AFHA offer the following tips:

  1. Look in your maintenance portal and see if you can request the installation of window guards (we prefer Guardian Angel Window Guards) or an ASTM F2090-compliant window-opening control device.
  2. When young children are around, keep windows closed and locked, weather permitting. We understand your MHPI housing may not have HVAC cooling systems, and families need good ventilation-you have a right to utilize your windows for home cooling.
  3. When opening a window for ventilation, use those located out of a child’s reach when able. We know many MHPI housing units have low window sills, so do your best!
  4. Avoid placing furniture near windows to prevent young children from climbing and gaining access to an open window.
  5. Don’t allow children to jump on beds or other furniture to help reduce potential falls. And don't worry-no shame from the parents here at AFHA and FGIA...we know kids will do what they want as they grow and explore in life!
  6. Notice what kind of screens you have installed-AFHA has recorded most MHPI housing screens are solely insect barriers and not screens that can sustain up to 60 pounds of passive weight, like this Lansing product. In addition, insect screens will not support a child's weight, particularly a toddler or newly walking baby who is "head heavy."
  7. Write to your local elected officials to support Evan's Law-the law that provides instruction for window fall prevention in MHPI housing. Evan's Law needs more robust enforcement and language loopholes closed to ensure the safety of all our children!

If you need help asking your MHPI company for window guards or help to pay for them, feel free to contact us for assistance. Visit www.nsc.org/windowsafetytaskforce and the window safety sections of the FGIA and WDMA websites to learn more. Also, follow the Window Safety Task Force on Twitter and Facebook for more tips and updates on this critical safety issue.

* According to Safe Kids Worldwide’s 2015 Report to the Nation: Protecting Children in Your Home

More resources:

https://childwindowsafety.org/

http://www.safekids.org/research-report/report-nation-protecting-children-your-home-february-2015

Guest writer Sergio Rodriguez is AFHA's Chairman, JEDI Officer, and the Armed Forces Insurance Navy Spouse of the Year 2022. To honor Black History Month, Sergio has written a piece about his experience as a Black man, and we hope it sheds light on historical and continued issues People of Color experience. Through our JEDI program, we hope to shed light and provide solutions to these issues for BIPOC families, LGBTQIA+ families, and all families in privatized military housing.

My Story

I was raised in Moreno Valley, CA, which was sadly the recipient of negativity from surrounding areas. Moreno Valley was called "Sunnymead," and there you could find a racetrack, farmland, and it was supposedly a peaceful place to reside. My family and I moved to Sunnymead in 1992 from Palm Springs, California- not the fancy part of Palm Springs you see in the movies. We lived on the outskirts, an area called Windy Point. It was off the highway; we had no traffic signals and one gas station that also acted as a market.

In Palm Springs, out of the 75 homes and trailers in the area, we were probably the 3rd black family that had resided there. We had a small house on the corner of Crystal Springs Drive. We didn’t have much money, so we rented the place. The roof leaked at times, the owner left a travel trailer with flat tires, and it didn’t look very pleasant in the back of the house either. My sisters and I would catch the bus to and from school since it was about 6 miles for me and 8 miles from my sisters' school. My mother worked seven days a week from 7 pm to 7 am, taking care of senior citizens, and my stepfather was a truck driver. Early one morning in 1992, it was a Saturday- I recall that because I did not have school- some strange men approached our home. I say men, but I was unsure because they wore white robes and hoods over their faces. They lit the travel trailer on fire behind the house and shouted, “It’s time for you to LEAVE.” I ran inside and alerted my family and we called 911. The fire to the trailer was extinguished, and no damage was done to our home. Though there was no physical damage, the psychological damage was done. My family began packing whatever we could into anything we could find. My stepfather brought his truck and trailer to the house, and we threw it all in hastily- zero organization.

We found a home to rent in Moreno Valley, CA, where my story of being black in America became even more painfully apparent. I hung out with a neighbor, his name was Ryan, and he was white. He was quite the mischievous kid. His Dad was active duty military, and I cannot recall what his mother did, but I know she was gone most of the time. Ryan had his group of friends at school and would ignore me during school hours. We were great friends after school and in the neighborhood, though. I eventually asked Ryan why he would ignore me at school, and he said, “his friends don’t like Black people.” I struggled to process this information because I was in middle school and unaware of the deep-rooted racism in America that I would come to experience over and over. In fact, as I grew, I recall having some of my teachers tell me that I needed to learn to speak intelligently or I would fail in society. This taught me that although I spoke slang with friends, I now knew not to write with it or speak with my teachers that way.

At 16 years old and learning in both high school and community college at the time, I landed my first job with the County of Riverside. I got my license at 17 and bought my first car for $500.00. I got pulled over weekly, sometimes multiple times a week, with police asking me where I was going or coming from. The police department searched my car at least twice a month. I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t drink alcohol, I wasn’t smoking cigarettes, and I wasn’t breaking the law. But I learned, regardless of what I was doing, I was going to be pulled over. As a reality of being Black, I had learned the horrible lesson that if an officer pulled behind me, be prepared to be stopped. One of the times that I was pulled over was because I had green lights in the door of my vehicle-a common light that most other vehicles had, usually in red or white. The officer followed me from getting into my vehicle at the gas station, pulled me over, searched my car, and gave me a ticket for the lights at the end. I looked the law up on the ticket and it was obscure and rarely used. I can only imagine why he waited for me to leave a gas station and searched my car, and then used an obscure law to ticket me after finding nothing illegal.

As a young black male, my experiences were aggressive and traumatic here in America. As an adult, it has not changed. On February 13, 2015, I encountered a DUI/License checkpoint. I tried to turn before the checkpoint as the Constitution allows, not because I didn’t have a license or because I was drinking- I wasn’t. It was because I did not want to deal with the possibility of racism in America, like I had experienced so many times before. I was automatically exhausted, angry and afraid. So, I pulled into a parking lot and saw an officer on a motorcycle watching for who turns to avoid the checkpoint.

I made a foolish mistake- against all my training as a certified Paralegal, through the Police Academy, and as a Veteran indicating to say nothing, I decided to talk to the officer. I got out of my vehicle on my crutches (I am disabled) and approached the officer. I asked him why the side street was blocked off, as the law says people have a right to avoid checkpoints. He responded with, “get out of here.” I then asked him to call his supervisor so I may make my inquiries- I wanted to understand why they were not allowing people through the side street. The officer got on the radio and requested the supervisor. As we stood waiting, my camera rolling for my safety, the officer got off his motorcycle and told me to sit on the ground. I told the officer, no, I would not sit on the sidewalk as it would be incredibly difficult due to my disability, I was not under arrest, and frankly the sidewalk was filthy.

I see the supervisor pulling up in their vehicle, the motorcycle officer yells at me to sit, and I say no again. My heart starts to pound. I told the motorcycle officer there was no reason for him to be aggressive, trying to calm him down-I want this to deescalate. The next thing I know, the officer tackles me and begins to beat me mercilessly. I am handcuffed, and his supervisor jumps out of his vehicle to assist with the chaos. I sustained multiple cuts, bruises, and a torn rotator cuff from the attack. I filed a complaint against the officer, and the investigation exonerated the officer, as I had predicted it would. The officer claimed he feared for his safety because I looked like I could walk normally and my crutches would be used to attack him. My heart was shattered for the millionth time.

Now I have a 20-year-old Black son whom I am concerned about daily. Being Black in America is a struggle. People fear us, they make judgments about who we are simply by seeing the color of our skin rather than by the content of our character. To say, "Black Lives Matter" infuriates some people- it makes them defensive. To that, I say my Black Life Matters, My Wife’s Black Life Matters, My Son, and Daughter’s Black Life Matters, ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER. And making sure everyone understands that-that is my lifeblood.

In 1996, the Department of Defense created the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) program to improve military housing. This program, including 50-year contracts with privatized military housing partners, allowed the private companies to build and manage military housing, with the idea that this would result in better-maintained homes at a lower cost. Unfortunately, this appears to have failed. In recent years, reports of unsafe and inadequate living conditions have drawn attention to severe issues with privatized military housing.

26 years into the MHPI program, health issues caused by poor maintenance is just one of many problems with privatized military housing due to inadequate maintenance. Privatized housing companies seem to be focused more on profits than on providing quality housing for military families, which can lead to serious health issues caused by mold, water damage and other environmental hazards. Unfortunately, many of these problems go unreported or unresolved due to a lack of oversight from the DoD and Military Housing Offices responsible for monitoring these contracts and fear of retaliation from the families. 

Despite multiple attempts at the legislative level to protect military families' rights, class action lawsuits by residents, charges by the Department of Justice against housing companies like Balfour Beatty and Hunt, and multiple investigations at the Capitol, the needle has barely moved in improving the situation. Therefore, the Armed Forces Housing Advocates stands firm in its belief that military families must be educated on their rights and understand their lease agreement before signing so that they can protect themselves from unscrupulous landlords who may prioritize profits over quality housing options for our service members and their families. We also firmly advocate that the unbiased third-party oversight of the program is the only way to achieve true and meaningful change in the MHPI program. Readiness starts with a safe home!

Season’s Greetings AFHA Members, Families, and Partners!

As 2023 approaches, I find myself astonished at the level of compassion, tenacity, and knowledge I have had the privilege to experience from our team, partners, military families, mentors, and supporters of Armed Forces Housing Advocates. To say I am grateful would be an understatement.

More heartening than that is the steadfast support you all have given to ensure we are able to continue our mission of advocating that military members and their families have access to safe and habitable housing-the fact that this is a daunting and thankless task is not lost on me. With long hours of volunteering, fear of retaliation, economic hardships, and experiencing your own military housing issues, you have all remained resolute in building up our ability to help thousands of military families across the nation. Among these efforts that we worked tirelessly on, and will continue to do so next year, include:

Next year, AFHA will continue to enact meaningful change by "getting into good trouble, necessary trouble" as Representative Lewis once said – to continue moving the needle on rebuilding the Military Housing Privatization Initiative with solutions that protect military families across the nation.

We became "trouble makers" when we opened nearly 20 months ago in several ways. We used our advocacy work to leverage the voices of national leaders and partner organizations to publicly disrupt policies and practices that negatively affect the lives of our service members and their families. We also stood our ground as we took on machines far larger than our nonprofit, firm in our commitment to protect the families that come to us for help. Finally, as a military housing advocacy coalition leader, AFHA activated its learning series in 2022 for advocates featuring sessions and certifications focused on disability rights, diversity and equity, water restoration, mold remediation, best practices for mold and asbestos occurrences, Tenant Bill of Rights violations, and the dispute process.

In 2023, AFHA will continue its advocate education councils to continue these and other meaningful conversations. We are also excited to begin conducting our new research in the following areas for report to Congressional offices:

As a disruptor in the military housing space, while AFHA has had successes, we have taken some blows in 2022, which was expected. The Military Housing Readiness Council Act, though supported fervently by dozens of legislators on both sides of the aisle, was effectively demolished. While painful to learn, as the National Defense Authorization Act is coming to a place of completion, we understand that the "Council Act" would have allowed the curtain to be pulled back on the MHPI program-an action we feel was alarming to all those involved. That said, we will not stop fighting for true third-party oversight of this program, we will continue to provide solutions for problems we find, and we will not be silenced in the process.

Financially, like many grassroots nonprofits across the country often challenged with financial uncertainties, AFHA continued to examine how it conducts business and verify its viability through sound fiscal practices. Through the efforts of our finance team, AFHA will complete their first audit and will be poised for growth in 2023. We will remain a fully volunteer force for 2023, making certain all grants, donations and other funding resources will go straight back to AFHA's programs and operations.

In continuing to maintain a high level of engagement, AFHA worked tirelessly to engage with our social media channels, and create informative and entertaining content for viewers, particularly on TikTok. We have also begun sending the first series of monthly newsletters to our subscribers and will continue to do so throughout 2023. Our website remains an excellent resource of information and we will shortly begin utilizing Youtube as another platform for education. We also hope to come together in person next year for an event to connect with military families, supporters, and partners.

In closing, I remain rooted in hope and perseverance-I know that we will continue to persist in our mission because we have already come so far. I know it because the AFHA team is one of the most industrious and formidable groups of people I have ever had the honor of guiding. And I know we will persist because readiness starts with a safe home.

Thank you to all, and I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays. We will see you in 2023-you can't bury us.

Very Warmly,

Kate Needham

Executive Director

Armed Forces Housing Advocates

Moving can be stressful for military families, especially for military families with disabilities. When moving to an area with limited housing options it can often seem as if living in privatized military housing (“Base housing”) is the only option. Fortunately, the Fair Housing Act awards the same protections to residents of privatized military housing as it does to residents of off base housing. This means that it is illegal to discriminate against race, national origin, color, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. 

One accomodation that disabled individuals may need to request is the presence of an assistance animal. The Fair Housing Act defines an assistance animal as “an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability.” This means that an assistance animal is not a pet, and is instead a necessary piece of medical equipment. While the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that assistance animals (also known as “service animals”) be task trained for public access, the Fair Housing Act does not require that the animals be task trained as long as their presence in the home alleviates the disability in some way. These animals are commonly referred to as “emotional support animals” or “ESA”. 

Whether your assistance animal is task trained or provides emotional support for your disability, the process for requesting an accommodation is the same. You are able to submit your request at any time before or after moving into your home, and you may submit it in whatever format you prefer. Many housing companies will provide you their preferred form, however, they are required to accept your request regardless of how it is submitted, including but not limited to, email, phone, or in person. We recommend that you always follow up in writing after any verbal conversations for documentation purposes. 

Once you have submitted your accommodation request you may be required to submit additional documentation. Your housing provider may request additional documentation only if the disability and need for the assistance animal are not apparent. If the disability and need for the animal are not apparent then your housing provider may ask you if your animal is task trained, if the answer is yes then they may not request additional documentation. If the animal is not task trained then they may request additional documentation. Your housing provider is not allowed to ask for your diagnosis but may request documentation that you have a disability and that you have a need for an assistance animal. This may be in the form of a letter from a medical provider, social security disability determination, documentation of veterans disability, medical records, or other forms of documentation. 

Your assistance animal is not a pet and your housing provider is not allowed to charge you pet rent, pet fees, or any additional fees related to owning the animal, however, if your assistance animal damages the property you may be charged fees related to the repair or replacement of the property that was damaged. Your assistance animal must not be subject to any restrictions such as pet friendly units, breed restrictions, or other restrictions that would apply to pets. Even though your assistance animal is medically necessary there may be some instances where they can be denied or asked to leave. Your animal must not be a danger to neighbors or housing employees and must not cause significant damage to the property. 

For further assistance with submitting a request for an assistance animal in military housing submit an advocate request. 

Today I took a break from packing for our upcoming move, to write my “mold story” for an organization wanting to bring attention to the systemic mold issues in MHPI housing. I’m packing for an upcoming move because for the second time in my husband’s military career, we are living in an MHPI home with mold problems. We were offered a transfer to a different MHPI home, as the housing company says, for “customer service” reasons...but not because there is a problem with our current home, of course.
As I write my “mold story” the emotions are overwhelming. The guilt for putting my children in unsafe homes twice, the fear the home to where we are transferring may be no better, the tightening of my chest every time my daughter says “Mommy, my head hurts,” as I work. The wide range of emotions are relentless, but days like today when I attempt to put our story into words...they’re unbearable-anger, disappointment, sadness, fear, uncertainty, and resentment, to name a few. The aftermath of fighting the first MHPI housing company who placed us in a toxic home is constant; I live in a defensive state when it comes to privatized military housing companies.


Submitting a work order for a leaky faucet leads to almost compulsive cleaning of my, typically already clean, house. Because if my baseboards are dirty, they’ll blame the leaking faucet on me, right? When you’re told mold in your vents is “dirt”, or “you probably opened the door and a leaf blew in," and that “you don’t run the fan in your bathroom long enough," and “your thermostat should be set only 10 degrees cooler than the outside temperature," or my all-time favorite, “it’s scientifically impossible, absent a flooding event for mold in the home to impact your contents..." you start to believe you are the problem. That abusive relationship with the MHPI company begins when you identify a life, safety, or health issue, and changes the way you function in your daily life. Watching your children suffer through allergy testing, respiratory issues, bloody noses, struggling to breathe, in a home you know is not safe while being told nothing is wrong, permanently changes the way you live your daily life. I miss the days I believed my home was the safest place my children could be.
Nobody forced us to live in military housing again. After our first experience with a toxic home, we should have run away and never looked back. But we made what we thought was the best decision as we had to PCS during the beginning of a pandemic, when most of the country was locked down. The more our move date was changed, the more difficult it became to secure a home off base because there was no guarantee as to when we would arrive at my husband’s new assignment. Do I regret our decision to give military housing another chance? Yes. Will we live in military housing again? Not if I can help it. Is any of this my fault?No.

Each time we paid rent, or Basic Allowance for Housing, the expectation was that the housing company would provide us with a safe home. It's a reasonable request, after all. What is unreasonable, however, is the continued disregard for the health and safety of residents by those tasked with managing them and the demand that we live in these homes, keeping our mouths shut. I ask myself every day, how can a company run by human beings with their own families sleep at night asking us to suffer in silence? Where is their humanity?
As the events with the contaminated water in Hawaii unfold and Armed Forces Housing Advocates does our best to support military families suffering in unimaginable ways, the words from the residents over the last two months play in my head on a reel. “They don’t care about us… they don’t care that we are sick… they don’t care that they poisoned my children…I’ll never be able to trust them again." Many of us at AFHA have experienced similar thoughts when living in unsafe MHPI homes. It is why we volunteer so much of our time to support military families, and to advocate for change. It is why we can say “we believe you” and mean it-we have actually been there. And some of us are still there. We believe you. Whether you’re dealing with contaminated water, dealing with mold, lead-based paint, window hazards, or any other life, safety, or health issue, we believe you.
The toll of MHPI substandard living conditions takes on all of us, mentally and physically, is immeasurable. Someday, I have to believe, that all of this will come to light and that the Department of Defense will hold the MHPI companies accountable for their action on a large scale. I don't know if the damage done to my family, to thousands of families, will ever be undone. I am not sure if it is a bell that can be un-rung. What I do know is that readiness starts with a safe home, and I am here with AFHA to make sure that message gets into the heads of anyone that needs to hear it.

TERMS OF SERVICEPRIVACY POLICYDISCLAIMER
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