Military Discovers Harsh Realities of Housing Crunch
Officials Contend Costs Won’t Affect Upcoming Base Closure Decisions
By Brad Graves
San Diego’s housing struggle is the military’s struggle, too.
The situation hits junior- and mid-level enlisted people especially hard, says a federal government study issued in June, citing high rents and long commutes.
The document , an environmental study prepared for a proposed 1,600-unit subdivision at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar , speaks of a “critical shortage” of affordable, military family housing in the region.
Sailors on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan were warned, via the ship’s Web site, of a housing shortage in San Diego before the ship changed home ports from Virginia to San Diego in July.
During a party following the ship’s arrival July 23, Petty Officer 2nd Class Angela Barman and Petty Officer 3rd Class Johann Tonnessen talked enthusiastically about finding apartments, but said in the near term they would live aboard the ship.
Outside the party, a knot of formally clad officers agreed that at $2,000 a month, housing was a problem in San Diego. None of the officers would give their names.
“Time is money,” said one officer, who said he chose to put his family in Coronado, near his job, rather than commute from a long distance. He said his out-of-pocket housing costs are more than the Navy reimbursement for housing. The officer said he is on a waiting list for one of the Navy’s family housing developments.
Another officer, apparently from the Reagan, said she was weighing her housing options. She didn’t appear happy about her prospects.
There are happier stories elsewhere. Petty Officer 1st Class John Ward and his wife were able to enter the housing market two years ago, buying a 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom home at the foot of Mount Helix in El Cajon.
His timing was critical.
“Basically I could not afford a home today,” said Ward, who works at the regional maintenance center at Naval Station San Diego. “If I didn’t jump in, the housing market would have locked me out.”
Ward said his housing allowance covers his mortgage but not his utilities.
As a petty officer 1st class with a wife (who the Navy considers a dependent), Ward is able to collect a housing allowance of $1,700 per month. A petty officer 1st class with no dependents gets $1,153 per month.
The allowance changes by region. In Norfolk, Va., a person like Ward a petty officer 1st class with a dependent , earns $996 per month in basic allowance for housing.
Local housing allowances are also on the rise. Instead of $1,700, a petty officer 1st class like Ward would have earned $1,552 in 2003 and $1,512 in 2002.
Sailors who are new to San Diego are likely to cross paths with Susan Andres, a civilian Navy employee. Her job is to match service families , an average of 150 per day , with housing. Her office has 23 counselors and 10 field representatives. The latter keep in touch with civilian landlords, who house four out of five Navy families.
Andres’ office also maintains waiting lists for military family housing. Different developments have different wait times, depending on the desirability of the housing, Navy officials said. Andres said the average wait to get into a Navy family housing complex is 12 months.
Against this backdrop the military is at work to rehabilitate and replace its aging family housing developments. A recent privatization effort has farmed out construction and property management to several companies, including Lincoln Property Co. of Dallas, Clark Realty of Bethesda, Md., and Hunt Building Co. of El Paso, Texas. In one $750 million deal, sealed last year, the three companies agreed to renovate and run Marine housing in San Diego and Quantico, Va.
The deals, called “public private” partnerships, require less government money and speed construction and renovation, said Anthony Megliola, a civilian executive with the Navy.
Under other deals, Clark Realty Builders is renovating the Navy’s Murphy Canyon development in phases, and rebuilding a neighborhood outside the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. In the latter case, Clark leveled a neighborhood of 545 one- and two-bedroom units dating from the 1940s. It is replacing them with town homes: 460 units, with three or four bedrooms.
All this comes as the Pentagon prepares for a nationwide round of military base closures in 2005. Some wonder whether housing will be a factor in the Pentagon’s evaluation of its San Diego installations.
Two observers , Erik Bruvold of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and retired vice admiral Peter Hekman , think the housing situation in San Diego has changed for the better, and that military brass recognizes that.
With congressional support, military leaders have “aggressively addressed” the military housing problem in San Diego, said Hekman, chairman of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Advisory Committee. He cited privatization and increases in housing allowances as positive changes.