Military families who have long-benefited from housing subsidies are finding themselves unable to afford rent amid record-breaking spikes in housing, as the Department of Defense neglects its commitment to help its service members find affordable places to live.
“It’s affecting us personally but then I think about how we were a junior enlisted family at one point. I cannot imagine the struggles (they) are going through,” said Kristen Marten, whose husband was transferred to Naval Base San Diego.
On-base housing wasn’t an option — the waitlist for a four-bedroom home in the neighborhoods they qualified for was 14 to 16 months.
Neither were the military-only hotels near base where new arrivals can pay low rates as they get their bearings — those were full, too.
So Martin cast a wide net across San Diego and started applying for rental homes, all sight unseen.
“I was waking up and the first thing I was doing was looking at properties,” Martin said. “I was looking at it midday, before I went to bed. I had alerts set. It became a full-time job.” –AP
After sending out more than 30 rental applications – which cost hundreds of dollars in application fees, the Martins finally found a home – for $4,200 per month, nearly $700 more than the monthly basic allowance for housing (BAH) that her husband, a lieutenant, receives.
“We’ll probably be here two or three years, so that could be $20,000 that we’re paying out of pocket above BAH just for rent,” she said, after the family’s fourth move in 15 years.
The situation has forced many military families to settle for substandard homes, long commutes, and paying thousands out of pocket they didn’t plan on spending.
“I don’t think civilians really understand — they might think we’re living in free housing and just having a great time, making lots of money. And that’s not the case at all,” said Kate Needham, a veteran who co-founded the nonprofit Armed Forces Housing Advocates in May 2021. “We have families coming to us that are on exorbitantly lengthy waiting lists and sitting in homes that they can’t afford, like an Airbnb rental, or they’re at a hotel or camping in tents or living in RVs.”
Needham’s group provides military families with microgrants to help them get by – some of whom have resorted to food banks because they can’t make ends meet.