President Donald Trump this week has been attacking African American Congressman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, for conditions in Baltimore — a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
The Republican president’s attacks on people of color in Congress are despicable, and his motives are blatantly political and divisive. But he has a point that humans should not have to live in ratholes.
In fact, many Americans do live in rodent-infested messes. Sadly, they include tens of thousands of U.S. service members and their dependents who occupy on-base military housing, including in Hawaii.
Consider the story of Marine Matt Limon and his wife, Sharon, who expected to make sacrifices for their country: “faraway deployments, long absences and frequent moves for a family with two young children,” as Reuters reported in November.
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam contains one of the biggest collections of military housing in Hawaii.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
What the Limons did not expect was the invasion of dozens of mice at their Camp Pendleton, California, duplex.
“The 2-year-old, he doesn’t say very many words, but ‘mouse poop’ is one of them,” Sharon told Reuters. “I would pick him up out of bed in the morning and he’d have mouse poop stuck to his leg.”
A Civil Beat article Monday revealed that the crisis in base housing extends to Oahu. Hundreds of families have complained about dead rats, live insects, lead paint, black mold and sewage flowing into bathrooms.
The local incidents are as horrific as the ones in California.
“For months I couldn’t sleep upstairs because the rats were playing in the attic all night,” a service member at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam reported. “It was so loud because of the aluminum vent system in the attic that they’d jump on, that you could still hear them downstairs from the sofa that I slept on, or I’d hear traps going off, and dealt with flies from decaying rats in the attic when the exterminators were booked and couldn’t come back to clean the traps.”
That account comes from the Military Family Advisory Network, which has compiled two reports on military housing. As these and other reports make clear, the primary reason for the deplorable conditions is the transfer of housing from the military to private companies.
Because of the work of the Military Family Advisory Network, Reuters and members of Congress, the public now knows just how bad we are treating thousands of service members who are sworn to protect and defend the nation. We also have a road map on how to correct that.
First, the private companies — in Hawaii, that’s Australia-based Island Palm Communities and a Texas firm, the Hunt Companies, operating as Ohana Military Communities — must immediately respond to complaints.
If the companies fail to follow through, the military should impose stiff financial penalties on them or ban them from the program.
Congress also needs to pass new regulations that amount to a tenant “bill of rights” for military families. As Civil Beat reported Tuesday, the rules have been endorsed by the Department of Defense and the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.
The U.S. Army in March said the rules were informed by three service secretaries who “have seen firsthand and reviewed problems in housing units.”
The tenant bill of rights includes this as the first right:
Residents have the right to reside in homes and communities that are safe; meet health and environmental standards; have working fixtures, appliances, and utilities; and have well-maintained common areas and amenity spaces.
The third thing that could improve conditions in on-base housing is money. Which brings us back to President Trump.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week ruled that the administration can use $2.5 billion in Defense Department funding to help build a border wall on the southern border.
There is a crisis at the border, but it is primarily caused by Central Americans fleeing terror in their homelands to seek asylum in the United States. As has been pointed out by people with brains, hearts and sense, a wall is not the solution.
Trump should direct the Defense Department to use the money instead to take care of its own, including at the military base most used by the president: Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
The same rodent problems found at Pearl Harbor-Hickam and Camp Pendleton are also to be found at Andrews, which is home to Air Force One.
Surely the president doesn’t want to have the dependents of his pilots and flight crews dealing with mice poop before they whisk him off to his next destination.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair and Jessica Terrell. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.