Fedweek

Union: Available housing is often dilapidated and in dangerous disrepair. Image: Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock.com

The NFFE union has said that due to lack of housing or the poor conditions of some that is available has left some of those workers some Forest Service employees are “living in their trucks, vans, hammocks, or are ‘couch-surfing.’”

In a letter to the agency’s parent Agriculture Department, NFFE said that employees it represents pointed out that no government housing is available to employees in some locations and that private rentals “are scarce and unaffordable in many locations.”

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Further, some housing that exists “is dilapidated and in dangerous disrepair. Frequent complaints include: mold, asbestos, rodent infestations, roofs caving in, exposed wires, no insulation, inoperable windows, no locks, non-functioning appliances, no Wi-Fi and poor cellular phone service,” the letter said. In some cases employees are making repairs at their own cost, it added.

Other issues included high rents in some areas because rates are based on the nearest municipality which in some cases are “pricey tourist or college towns”; that temporary employees can lose their housing if they take a permanent position; that if the agency posts a vacancy announcement for a position with higher priority for housing, the current occupant must vacate and the bed will remain vacant until a hiree is in place; and rents are not prorated if fewer than the maximum number of employees are living in a facility.

For the short run, the union called on the department to expedite repairs; investigate whether housing is substandard or violates health or infestation regulations; and establish a housing stipend for any employee who does not live in Forest Service housing, among other steps. Longer-term, it said, the department should build enough housing so that every Forest Service employee who wants to live in agency housing can do it, among others.

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