NFFE Pens Letter to Agency Leaders on Fixing Forest Service Housing Crisis
July 12, 2022
Yesterday, the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, USFS Chief Randy Moore, and Undersecretary Homer Wilkes outlining recommendations to permanently fix the housing situation for Forest Service employees. NFFE gathered data on specific housing issues from its membership working for the Forest Service, as well as solutions that employees recommended.
“As you know, the housing problem in the Forest Service is fundamentally about dignity,” states the letter from NFFE National President Randy Erwin. “Forest Service employees deserve to have a safe, affordable, and reliable place to live, but many do not. Your employees and our members have shared these acute observations on the Forest Service housing crisis that negatively impacts a sense of dignity in the workplace and impedes recruitment and retention efforts.”
The letter lists specific challenges Forest Service workers face regarding living situations, including being forced to live out of their trucks, vans, hammocks, and “couch surfing.” Also cited is that government housing is not provided in many locations, but when it is available, it is dilapidated, dangerous, and costly, requiring employees to make repairs on their own with money from their own pockets.
There are several changes that the Forest Service can implement immediately to improve living conditions in the short term that are identified in the letter, including: expediting repairs for government housing, adding simple amenities and new furnishings, waiving rent payments for housing that is below living standards, establishing housing stipends, purchasing campers, and building new housing.
In the longer term, the letter suggests making permanent, adequate, and affordable government housing available for all Forest Service employees, including space for workers’ families. Further, the letter recommends standardizing housing requirements so that all housing has proper amenities, furniture, Wi-Fi, heating and air conditioning, allowing for safety, privacy, and respect for workers.
“Fixing the housing problems in the Forest Service will require allocation of additional financial resources, however, this is necessary for the agency to attract and retain the workforce it needs to accomplish its critical mission,” continued President Erwin. “The current state of housing represents a certain degree of neglect via programmatic funding to maintain housing conditions and adjust for modern life, such as access to electronic communications, or in the interests of family responsibilities to prevent firefighters from choosing between a career or a family.”