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HOUSING ACT OF 1954
MONDAY, MARCH 8, 1954
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON BANKING AND CURRENCY,
Washington, D. C.
The committee met at 10 a. m., Hon. Jesse P. Wolcott (chairman) presiding.
Present: Chairman Wolcott, Messrs. Kilburn, McDonough, Mumma, McVey, Merrill, Hiestand, Stringfellow, Van Pelt, Spence, Brown, Deane, O'Brien, Bolling, Hays, and O'Hara.
The CHAIRMAN. The committee will come to order.
We will proceed to consideration of H. R. 7839.
We have with us as our first witness this morning Mr. Ferry, of the Department of Defense, accompanied by Colonel McCord, representing the Air Force. We are happy to have you proceed, gentle
I think we should apologize to these gentlemen for having them wait around here last week. We just couldn't do otherwise.
Mr. FERRY. You were caught up in a very interesting discussion. I was very interested in hearing the discussion.
STATEMENT OF JOHN M. FERRY, SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR INSTALLATIONS TO THE SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE, ACCOMPANIED BY COL. HAL MCCORD AND JOHN W. MITCHELL
Mr. FERRY. My name is John M. Ferry and I am the special assistant for installations to the Secretary of the Air Force. I have a prepared statement which I will be glad to read and then answer any questions which the committee may have.
I have brought up to the witness table with me Col. Hal McCord, who is in charge of the housing program for the Air Force, and may be able to add any details with which I may not be familiar.
On behalf of the Department of Defense, I wish to express my appreciation for this opportunity to appear before your committee and to present the Department's views on the extension of the Wherry Act.
The military departments have a very special interest in this legislation because it is one of the principal means by which the military services retain experienced and qualified personnel. One of the quickest ways to lose our personnel is to effectively deny them the opportunity to maintain their families at their accustomed standard of living. Our surveys to determine factors that bear upon the decision "to stay in" or "to get out" of the service shows that adequate housing is one of the principal considerations weighed by both the enlisted
men and officer personnel. The lack of proper housing in the past, as you know, has caused the services to lose many fine well-trained individuals who might otherwise have made a career of service for our country. One of the greatest single items of expense that the services are forced to contend with is that expense incurred in training specialists to operate the highly technical equipment of modern warfare. Training, of course, is always with us, but the cost of retraining to replace those who leave the service because of living conditions is very large indeed. The extension of title VIII of the National Housing Act which appears in section 128 of this bill, H. R. 7839, would continue for the military departments the existing authority through which permanent family housing can be provided and in this manner assist in retaining our experienced and qualified personnel.
The Wherry Act has been utilized to the fullest extent practicable at our permanent installations. It must be noted that the military utilization of installations has greatly changed within the past few years and particularly is this true of air installations. During the last war airbases in this country were utilized principally for training and movement to combat areas. With the advent of long-range defensive weapons and striking forces, our installations have now become war operational areas either for offensive or defensive operations. When this fact is recognized it becomes apparent that base life as it existed previously must be changed to meet the new military conditions. For this reason the military departments must now of necessity bring their personnel closer and closer to the actual operating sites. It is imperative that we tune our thinking to this new concept and its relationship to the location of our people with respect to their job. Air Force personnel who may be unable to perform their military assignment within a very short time are not only a loss to the service but effectively reduce our ability to fight off invasion or to launch an effective counterattack. For example, a fighter interceptor pilot or his crew chief obviously cannot live a great distance away from his base across a congested area of city traffic and be ready to do the job as effectively as if that pilot or crew chief were living on or adjacent to the base. Housing military families on the reservation, therefore, has been found to be the only practical method of assuring a constant availability of the maximum number of operational personnel in time of emergency.
The Wherry Act has contributed more to the stability and welfare of Air Force personnel and personnel of the other departments than any other similar measure pertaining to the provision of housing that has been adopted by the Congress. Rents in many locations are still beyond the financial capability of service personnel and impose quite a hardship on the serviceman who is transferred into an area of high costs. We are doing our best to provide the serviceman with housing where he will not be subject to rentals beyond his ability and substandard housing conditions. There are still areas where high rentals and high living costs cause some service personnel to live under other than desirable conditions. The Wherry Act has assisted immeasurably at the permanent stations to correct these conditions but there is still much room for improvement and there are still areas where rents are simply too high for our people to afford. Many sacrifices are made by service personnel to maintain their individual dignity and the dignity of the uniform.
The necessity for continuation of the Wherry Act can also be demonstrated by citing a few statistics. At the present time the Departments have 22,000 units which represent the present expectation of construction under the provisions of the act. These units will be spread throughout the United States to increase the number of units at existing projects and to provide new locations. The Departments requirements for family housing for the 3 services total in the neighborhood of 600,000 units. The available housing amounts to about 200,000 units leaving a deficiency of approximately 400,000 units. Of the amount available about 87,000 units have been completed or certified under the Wherry program. It may be noted that there is a vast difference between the requirement, the total available, and the remaining deficit. While we know that many organizations and individuals believe that the Wherry Act has been used more extensively than the figures demonstrate, it must be realized that even with all of the assistance of the Wherry program the military must still rely for the most part upon adjacent communities for family housing.
It is equally significant to note the number of temporary units which are currently in existence. Of the houses available approximately 15,000 are of such temporary construction and have reached such an age that they are approaching a point where it is no longer economically feasible to continue maintenance. Maintenance on temporary units and on the older public quarters gradually reaches a point where the return is less than the investment warrants. These units are not only, therefore, unattractive from the standpoint of living conditions, but are economically unsound.
The Wherry program is actively developed in consonance with the military public works program. As you know, housing projects must be so timed that occupancy will be assured upon completion. It is very important, therefore, that we so plan and construct the Wherry units that they will be ready when the base or installation is completed. In no case thus far have we built the housing before an installation has been actually occupied. I believe, therefore, that the services are carrying out your wishes in properly providing the housing under the Wherry program and recommend that the extension of the act be granted. It would be unwise, I think, not to continue this program at this time and it would certainly be unfair to require men who sacrifice so much by entering the service of their country to live apart from their families or force them to live under substandard conditions. The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Ferry.
Are there questions of Mr. Ferry by members of the committee? Mr. MERRILL. Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Merrill.
Mr. MERRILL. As I understand it, the bill as it is now written satisfies your requirements as stated here?
Mr. FERRY. Yes, sir; Mr. Merrill. We are very, very pleased with it. Mr. DEANE. Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Deane.
Mr. DEANE. I was impressed that Mr. Ferry, on the first page of your statement, about the necessary housing for the military in order to maintain the proper military personnel. I had a noncommissioned officer visit me yesterday afternoon, and what he and his wife discussed was housing. He had been moved from a camp in Virginia to a camp
in Maryland, and I asked him how long was he going to stay in the service, and whether he was going to make it his career. He had been in 7 or 8 years. And very suddenly he spoke out and said, well, he didn't know how much longer because the housing was so unsuitable. That is the first time his wife had heard him express that. She said "That is news to me. I didn't know you were thinking along those lines."
So I feel very strongly, as you do, that if we are to maintain the proper military personnel housing is a key factor.
Do you care to amplify on what you say here on page 1 of your statement?
Mr. FERRY. I would be glad to, Mr. Deane.
In personal conversations that I have had as I have gone around from one installation to the other-these are largely Air Force installations that I am speaking of-I have talked to a great many of the enlisted personnel, and I have found that of all the factors which influence their dislike or their disagreement with conditions under which they are living, the inadequacy of housing, in many instances, is the most pertinent factor that I have discovered. I think it overweighs the question of pay, I think it overweighs the question of fringe benefits about which we hear so much nowadays.
If a man is living with his family, and his wife is unhappy, I think we all know pretty well she can make him an unhappy man, he is not going to stay in the service.
Mr. DEANE. I direct my questioning now to the Wherry Act. I understand it, housing under the Wherry Act is for permanent installations.
Mr. FERRY. That is correct, sir. That is legally the only place where we can build Wherry housing.
Mr. DEANE. Of course you need housing in areas where they are not permanent installations?
Mr. FERRY. Yes, sir.
Mr. DEANE. I wonder if you are in a position to advise, so far as the needs with reference to the other services, as well as the Air Force?
Mr. FERRY. I would prefer, if I might, not to speak beyond the needs of the air services. But I have with me Mr. Mitchell who can speak about that.
Mr. DEANE. I think that is important, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. FERRY. I will ask Mr. Mitchell to answer that.
Mr. Mitchell, would you tell the committee something of the needs of the Army and Navy for housing?
Mr. MITCHELL. Yes, Congressman Deane and members of the committee, the figures quoted in the statement which has just been read by Mr. Ferry do cover the entire Defense Establishment. The deficiency as shown is 200,000 units-that is for the three military departments.
The other means for providing housing, of course, if that is what you refer to, Congressman Deane, are titles IX and III. We have obtained some benefits from these sources at both permanent or temporary installations.
Mr. DEANE. So far as I understand, as far as the Wherry housing is concerned, would you break that down as far as each of the services is concerned?
Mr. MITCHELL. As to what has been obtained?
Mr. DEANE. That is right, for each of the services.
Mr. MITCHELL. There are a total of 227 projects at the present time in the program. That represents those which have been certified by the Secretary of the Military Department and are either in the developmental stages, in the process of construction, or have been completed.
Of those 227 projects, 146 are completed entirely. The 227 projects account for approximately 87,000 units, of which 63,000 are completed; 18,000 at Army installations, 14,500 at Navy, and 30,800 at Air Force bases.
Mr. DEANE. Eighty-seven thousand, 63,000 complete?
Mr. MITCHELL. That is right. In addition, there are 42 projects with 14,000 units under construction, some of which may have been completed, but our reports do not reflect it until the entire project is complete. Another 39 projects with 10,000 units in various stages of processing.
Mr. DEANE. How many projects are on the boards, being projected?
Mr. MITCHELL. There are 22,000 units tentatively planned for next year's program. The total number of projects in the planning and development stage is 55.
Mr. DEANE. When would those projected projects be in construction?
Mr. MITCHELL. Thirty of those fifty-five have been certificated and are actually in the developmental stages.
Mr. DEANE. How long does it take to certificate a project and get it ready for construction? What period of time?
Mr. MITCHELL. Well, it varies considerably. I might let Colonel McCord speak on that.
Colonel MCCORD. Mr. Deane, it has been our experience over about 17 projects in the last 18 months to 2 years that it requires 15 months from the time that a project is decided as being required and the planning directive is issued, until the commitment by FHA is issued. Within 60 or 90 days after the commitment is issued construction has begun.
Mr. DEANE. This bill proposes to extend the Wherry Act for how long?
Mr. FERRY. Another year, sir, after the end of June.
Mr. HAYS. Will you yield?
Mr. DEANE. I yield.
Mr. HAYS. You will hardly have enough time to get FHA on the balance in that time.
Colonel McCORD. That is true, Mr. Hays. We have to start programing our units in April in order to insure issuance of the commitment under the extension which we are seeking.
Mr. HAYS. I hate to put you on the spot, but do you think FHA needs to take that long?
Colonel MCCORD. It isn't all FHA. They have been extremely cooperative. But in order to insure the economic stability of the project it is necessary to make a very careful determination of the requirements in an area, to develop the plans and specifications under competent engineer supervision, for the sponsor to be selected under a bid procedure, and for that sponsor to secure his financing.