Tuesday, July 13, 2010

GAO study into Laurelwood, Section 8 military housing due in September

Responding to a brief email query this morning, our contacts within the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative wing of the U.S. Congress, inform us that late-September is the target to release a much-anticipated (at least by NOPE, anyway...) study into Laurelwood housing and the status of seven other "Section 8" housing complexes on domestic military bases.

The GAO findings, in our view, will not only shed light on why it was a good idea for the Department of Navy to withdraw its so-called Record of Decision to convert 300 Laurelwood houses at NWS Earle into civilian rentals (and construct the ill-fated unimpeded access road through the base), but also prove valuable to the Congress in its oversight of military base housing nationwide. As we have railed for 2+ years, and the GAO has uncovered in other reports, oversight of military housing (and the outsourcing of construction and management of this privately-built and owned housing) is extremely lacking and needs to improve - to prevent situations elsewhere in the U.S. similar to what we have gone through with Laurelwood.

Meanwhile, in the days ahead we will follow up with our elected officials to see whether:
  1. the DoN/Earle and Laurelwood Homes, LLC have made progress in buyout negotiations and a Laurelwood teardown schedule;
  2. A2014, the Assembly measure to have New Jersey's Treasurer probe the financial impact (to the State) of the Laurelwood housing conversion, will make it through committee (Military and Veterans Affairs, which has not met publicly since May) or this companion measure to Senate-approved S762 is dead because of the impending Laurelwood buyout.  In our view, it is still important for the Treasurer to conduct this study, if nothing more than to establish a precedent by which NJ's leadership can handle potential other unfunded federal mandates (i.e. to protect New Jersey's interest in the event that Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Picattiny Arsenal, etc. seek to convert other underutilized privatized military housing or facilities into civilian enclaves); 
  3. the supposed offering of underutilized Balfour Beatty housing at NWS Earle will, indeed, be made available to tenants other than active military (i.e., vets, civilians), as we reported here last week; this is clearly a case worth watching, particularly as Earle's host towns grapple with proposed property tax caps, school budget cuts and reduced state aid, to name a few constraints. The DoN's earlier actions surrounding proposed civilian Laurelwood housing and impeded access through Earle clearly showed the DoD clearly has little concern about how its decisions impact local stakeholders.
Supporters, rest assured that NOPE is alive and well and will not disband until our mission is complete - to ensure the official dissolution of the Laurelwood housing contract and demolition of the 300 vacant homes.

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