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Fort Gordon housing conditions continue to deteriorate, families say

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – For over a decade now, our I-Team has uncovered issues with military housing at Fort Gordon.

We exposed things like mold, electrical and gas issues, and pest issues. Even the army admitted that what we discovered affected the safety of the families.

All of this recently thrust Fort Gordon back into the national spotlight when Senator Jon Ossoff used our I-Team reports as the starting point for the Senate Standing Subcommittee on Investigations that led to a recent hearing on Capitol Hill.

Essentially, Fort Gordon has become “the poster child” for the issues of unsafe living conditions for our military families. That’s why some might be surprised that our I-Team discovered even more issues on the post.

Balfour Beatty, the private company in charge of housing at Fort Gordon and more than 50 other US military installations, is under the microscope for doing the right thing. After the PSI hearing, the Army opened its own investigation and audit of Balfour Beatty at Fort Gordon.

The Justice Department could still bring criminal charges and Congress could still act. You’d think Balfour Beatty would be on his best behavior, but several families tell me it’s only gone from bad to worse.

OVER A DECADE OF I-TEAM COVERAGE:

As the saying goes, “when it rains, it rains,” but Joy Viera didn’t expect a real flood at her home in Fort Gordon.

In a cellphone video taken on May 29, she shows a leak in her kitchen in Gordon Terrace. Water rushes through a hole in the ceiling onto the floor below. If his furniture had arrived, it would have covered his dining room table. She goes upstairs, showing the two bathtubs filled with what appears to be raw sewage with bugs.

Apparently the water dripping down is “faecal water.” When her family moved here from Washington state, they say they waited a month and a half for military housing.

“We just spent all that money on a hotel for six and a half weeks because they told us we would have a house,” Joy Viera said. “They didn’t have a home for us.”

She tells us it troubled her because there had been no family in that house since January, meaning it had been empty for six months.

She says Fort Gordon knew they would come in February. Again, the Vieras have no home.

Joy Viera: “We are currently displaced.”

Liz Riley: “Basically.”

Joy Viera: “Basically. Yes. After not even 48 full hours in our house.

Liz Riley and her family are also displaced. They are staying at the same hotel where Joy’s family is staying. Joy jokes that her experience made her sick to her stomach, but Liz says the mold in her house made her sick. She says it gave her a terrible rash that spread all over her body, but her hands were the most affected.

Liz Riley: “I couldn’t wash my son. Could barely change her diaper. It hurts to pick them up. Like, I couldn’t do anything. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Meredith Anderson: “Have you ever had skin problems?

Liz Riley: “No tree, animal. Nothing has ever affected my skin. Already.”

She says she changed her diet, detergents – everything. Nothing worked. Balfour Beatty dismissed his concerns, according to Liz, along with several work orders about possible mold in a bathroom.

“They didn’t really want to lean into it,” she said. She tells us that the maintenance workers only found it when her husband pushed them.

“Indeed,” she said, “there is water leaking all around the base to the toilet, under the floor. And mold was growing.

Her rash was also increasing, as were her worries that her seemingly healthy son was affected in ways she couldn’t see, so she and her husband weren’t waiting to be moved. They left alone and pay their own hotel bill.

“I don’t have shortness of breath anymore,” Liz said. “Let’s go.”

OVER A DECADE OF I-TEAM COVERAGE:

His rash also disappears. In a photo from May 27, he is covered in blisters. The I-Team took a photo on June 3 where the blisters were gone, and it’s obviously healing.

“That’s proof to me that there was something out there that was causing this,” Liz said. “And it’s better now that I’m gone.”

Before leaving, Liz posted on her neighborhood Facebook page.

“I just wanted to know if anyone else had been through something.”

She says she was made to feel like she was making it all up, so she wanted to know if she was alone. She says she quickly discovered that others were in the same boat.

“12 people said, I found mold in my house,” she said.

Eleven others said they had skin problems and 9 others said they had other health problems after moving into their Fort Gordon home.

“Someone added nosebleeds, which we didn’t experience, but seven other people said they started having nosebleeds,” Liz said.

Again, it’s a neighborhood. Lakeview Terrace is Fort Gordon’s newest and finest neighborhood.

Hearing all this makes Haley Perez nervous. She lives in Gordon Terrace with her husband and two young children.

“It’s a routine question I get every time I take my kids for their routine checkups. You live in these houses. Your children are exposed to these things. Do you have exposed paint? Is flooring coming soon? Are your vents cleaned? This shows how unhealthy the living conditions in these houses are.

She worried so much about her children that she didn’t realize she could be affected too. She says she was recently rushed to the emergency room. Her husband called 911 when she couldn’t catch her breath. She says she suffered from asthma as a child, but hasn’t had any breathing problems since. Doctors could not identify the problem and sent her home with inhalers.

Haley Perez: “I really don’t know what it could be. It doesn’t look like asthma. It’s, it’s just crazy.

Meredith Anderson: “Do you think this is the house?

Haley Perez: ‘I feel now, hearing…it could be…’

Liz Riley: “Not to scare you, but…”

Haley Perez: “…but it’s scary to think that I lived in a house where I could have been exposed to something that made me not even able to breathe. And even today, I still have to breathe deeply.

Haley has been frustrated with security issues that seem like an easy fix. For example, she says it took crews 4 months to replace a broken window.

She says she has not yet received any important documents regarding her home.

Liz Riley: “So they never gave you the seven-year maintenance report?”

Haley Perez: “No.”

Liz Riley: “You haven’t seen it yet?”

Haley Perez: “We haven’t seen it. They told us they weren’t going to give it to us. We asked if we could at least have the interview request for the previous people in the house, and they also told us no.

This report is part of the Tenant Bill of Rights. Congress passed it trying to solve the military housing crisis. The I-Team discovered that Balfour Beatty was not following parts of this law at Fort Gordon, including providing a maintenance report to families in 2020.

The BBC has been granted an extension until June 1, 2021. By law, the Perez family should have a copy of this report.

“They’ve been getting away with it for so long,” Liz said. “What am I missing? Why aren’t they held accountable? Why isn’t anyone fixing this?

Service members and their families can contact Senator Jon Ossoff’s office for assistance. Just visit Ossoff.Senate.

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