Housing crisis

US troops face a housing crisis; Georgia Sen. Warnock steps up

It’s not easy being a US Marine. It’s not easy being a single mother. And it’s not easy to afford housing in Southern California. For Staff Sergeant Elizabeth Deanes, who belonged to all three groups, making ends meet was a challenge.

Positioned at pay grade “E-5” in the Army’s nine ranks of enlisted member pay for most of her stationing from 2013 to 2020 in San Diego, Deanes could not afford housing near MCAS bases. Miramar and Camp Pendleton Navy.

To afford a place for her and her son, she had to live 30 minutes away in a neighborhood she describes as “dangerous”, in a house without air conditioning. Still, that cost has stretched his finances and with the added daycare expenses, Deanes said his situation is “tight”.

Since becoming an E-6 in 2020 and moving shortly thereafter to the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, where rents are significantly cheaper, Deanes said her situation had improved. Yet for service members on lower salaries, housing affordability remains a major issue.

“You have more junior Marines, E-5s and below, who are forced to live in more dangerous areas or even travel long distances because that’s what the [Basic Allowance for Housing—BAH] will enable them to do, Deanes said Newsweek. “They don’t earn enough in their base salary to make up for the lack of BAH to live in more desirable areas.”

The Increasing Homeownership for Service Members Act would ask the Pentagon to conduct research into the barriers to homeownership faced by US troops. In this photo, homeless veterans are housed in 30 tents on a sidewalk along a busy San Vicente Boulevard outside the Veterans Administration campus in West Los Angeles, as seen on 22 April 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

The Basic Housing Allowance provides compensation for “equitable housing” in areas where government quarters are not provided, writes the Department of Defense (DOD). It is calculated based on location, pay grade, and dependency status. According to the DOD’s BAH calculator, an E-5 with dependents living in San Diego would receive $2,871 per month in compensation, while an E-6 with dependents in Albany would receive $1,152.

The BAH is recalculated each year to follow the evolution of costs. However, some members of the defense community question its resilience at a time when, despite a drop in the headline inflation rate of 0.6% for the month of July, the cost of housing jumped 5, 7%, according to a report released Wednesday by the Labor Department.

And while military salary increases are projected to rise 4.6% in 2023, that jump is anchored in the dated version of the Employment Cost Index (ECI). Seamus Daniels, associate director for defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), points out that the salary increase is based on the ECI calculated in October 2021, at a time when the rate inflation was 6.2%, compared to the 8.5% the country faces today.

“Given the high rate of inflation over the past year, there may be shortfalls as this ECI salary increase does not take into account recent inflation,” Daniels said. Newsweek. “So even though the BAH is indexed to housing costs and what’s happening in specific areas, the military may still face challenges because the salary increase this year may not be enough to cover the impact of inflation.”

In addition to this, the BAH does not take into account considerations such as nearby school districts that service members like Deanes must take into account when selecting suitable housing. It is also not designed to cover 100% of accommodation costs. In fiscal year 2015, Congress amended the BAH so that the DOD could impose “cost-sharing” provisions on the military, which means it currently covers 95% of estimated housing costs instead of 100 %.

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia intends to change that, introducing four separate laws in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that he says will make housing more affordable for troops. Americans.

Senator Warnock with the American Flag
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia wants to increase the housing allowance for US troops and spur development near military bases. In this photo, he speaks to supporters at a rally on November 15, 2020 in Marietta, Georgia.
Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

“As Georgia’s spokesperson in the Senate, I have made visiting Georgian military installations a priority, and one of the issues I hear most often from the military and military leaders is the challenges military members face in finding and paying for housing,” Warnock told Newsweek. “That’s why I’ve introduced this package of legislation to take a comprehensive approach to addressing military housing challenges. I look forward to securing all of these bills in the National Defense Authorization Act before ‘it is passed by the Senate.’

Two of Warnock’s four bills deal specifically with BAH: the Housing Restoration Basic Allowance Act and the BAH Calculation Improvement Act.

The BAH Restoration Act will increase the housing allowance for military members by removing the Congressional order for fiscal year 2015 to reduce the BAH to 100 percent. The BAH Calculation Improvement Act directs the DOD to analyze the “efficiency and accuracy” of the current allocation to determine whether it should be calculated more often and whether it should include school districts as a factor in that calculation. Warnock’s office said the law was also intended to make the BAH calculation more “transparent”.

“Our military and our military families sacrifice so much to defend our freedoms,” Warnock said. Newsweek. “The last thing they need to worry about is keeping a roof over their heads or making ends meet, but unfortunately that is the case for too many of our service members in Georgia and across the country. country.”

However, beyond concerns about compensation, many service members face the reality of limited housing options in the areas where they are stationed. DOD officials said Newsweek that it has seen increased demand for affordable off-base housing since May 2021 during its summer rebase season. At the same time, housing demand has increased while available housing has decreased following the COIVD-19 pandemic.

Albany Marine Corps Logistics Base
The base housing allowance can differ significantly when a member moves from a base in an expensive housing market like Southern California to a less expensive area like Georgia. In this photo, Marines take training outside Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., Aug. 8, 2018.
U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Re-Essa Buckels via DVIDS

When it comes to addressing the housing shortage, Pentagon officials say the Department has the infrastructure in place to help meet military needs. Housing Needs and Market Analysis (HRMA) assesses the “adequacy and availability” of an area’s private sector rental market relative to the needs of the military population in order to meet housing demand long-term from a specific base.

However, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Charlie Dietz said this process was not intended to address short-term housing needs, such as those caused by significant market shifts caused by events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It can therefore be difficult to respond to rapid changes in housing demand.

“It may take five years or more to increase the number of PMQs on base through traditional military construction, given the federal budget cycle and the fact that military construction projects require congressional authorization and appropriation,” Dietz said. Newsweek.

“Similarly, increasing the number of privatized homes on the base beyond the number of homes required in the project’s legal agreement typically takes more than two years,” he added. “This is because such a development of additional housing usually requires either government equity investment to pay for the additional houses or the disposal of government housing units which are built using government financing. construction funds – both of which require congressional appropriation and authorization of military construction funds.”

Warnock also aims to address these issues.

Through the Building More Military Housing Act, the DOD will create a report assessing the feasibility of acquiring property for housing development near its bases that are facing shortages. From there, three pilot programs will be created. One will use the Army’s Rental Partnership Program to stimulate private housing development by insuring future tenants.

The other two provisions of the bill will see the DOD partner with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Under the partnership, the two will provide financial incentives to developers of privatized military housing to boost housing for low-income military and civilians. It will also require the two departments to operate a grant program through the Local Defense Community Cooperation Office that will also address the housing needs of low-income service members.

Complementing this action is the Warnock Act on Increasing Homeownership for the Military, which directs the Pentagon to conduct research into the barriers to homeownership faced by the US military. Through this, the senator hopes the Troops will be better able to overcome barriers to home ownership that hinder their ability to build wealth. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that some 38,000 veterans will be homeless in 2022.

Deanes believes these are the kinds of moves that will dramatically improve the quality of life for young recruits and those nearing the end of their term who may be interested in owning their own homes and starting families.

“[Warnock’s bill] would alleviate a lot of financial burden and a lot of stress,” Deanes said. Newsweek. “And on a larger scale, I think prioritizing housing and BAH will likely increase the desire of Marines to stay in the Marine Corps.”