Fort Belvoir privatized housing, such as that in this 2019 file photo, has been acquired by The Michaels Organization, which is working to streamline maintenance processes and customer service. Photo by Paul Lara.
Fort Belvoir housing under new ownership
The Michaels Organization acquired the 2,100 Fort Belvoir homes formerly owned by Clark Realty Capital in late August, according to Jennifer Hudson, Fort Belvoir’s acting chief of housing.
The purchase of housing on seven additional bases – 15,000 homes for Army, Navy and Air Force families – is the largest single purchase in Michaels’ history.
“We are honored that the Department of Defense has entrusted us with this opportunity to house heroes and lift the lives of their families,” John O’Donnell, Michaels’ CEO, said in a company announcement. “We are honored to serve those who serve our country and their families, and we are grateful to the military’s leadership and our financial partners, whose support made this opportunity possible.”
Hudson said that some key changes were implemented right away.
“Now that Michaels has taken ownership of the Villages at Belvoir as its new Army partner, they have implemented all 18 of the [congressionally-mandated] Tenant Bill of Rights,” Hudson said. For example, she said, residents can request the full seven-year history of their home and use the dispute resolution process, and all leases will be under an approved universal lease.
With the acquisition, Michaels owns and manages all 15 Villages at Belvoir, which Hudson says has streamlined many processes.
“It might be too early to say, but since Michaels has taken over, they have been responsive about the decision-making process like exception to policies and conflict resolution,” Hudson said. “One month was spent migrating databases from Clark to Michaels, so I think Michaels is making sure everything is stabilized right now before they develop a plan of attack on streamlining work orders or anything else.”
Dayra Conde, regional vice president for Michaels, said the company tried to quickly improve conditions, starting with onboarding a new project director.
“I think you’re seeing the resident experience flourish from the transition, because we have the ability to respond proactively now and make quick decisions where there’s not that third party that’s sort of like ‘mother may I,’” Conde said.
Zach Allen, project director, said the company has already had a number of positive resident experiences.
“There were exceptions to policy requests and special situations that were asked for consideration, and normally these things would have dragged on a month or two months,” Allen said. “We were able to put them to bed for the most part within a week, which means everything to a military family that’s potentially in limbo, not knowing what home they’re going to? It adds to their quality of life overall, in those situations.”
Conde said next steps involve high customer service goals.
“Consistency is key,” she added. “We have a very big promise to live up to by lifting the lives of our residents, and we have the right teammates in place to be able to deliver on that. So we're very excited.”
Speaking at a town hall in October, Belvoir Garrison Commander Col. Joshua SeGraves was optimistic that resident satisfaction is growing.
“We’ve seen some really good improvements on the part of our housing partner, Michaels, and what they’ve done. Some really good things so far, and I think there’s more good news to come from them, and I think we’re on a much better track than we were,” SeGraves said.
Fort Belvoir’s housing, like much of the privatized housing within the Department of Defense, was deemed to have unacceptable living conditions in 2019 with widespread cases of mold in the homes, and military commanders were unable to change circumstances.
The Belvoir leadership responded by setting up an emergency operations center, with command leadership meeting twice daily for action reports, which included relocating many families to temporary housing elsewhere on post while crews performed mold remediation on homes, making them livable again.
A quality assurance team was also established to inspect every home before a new family moves in, and the garrison hired industrial hygienists, trained to spot conditions in and around the home that can contribute to mold.
Conde said there is more to do, and hinted that Michaels has a major initiative it will be announcing in a few months.