By Amy Miller, AFC®
We recently reviewed the results from the biennial Military Family Support Programming Survey and the recommendations made by MFAN (Military Family Advisory Network).
The survey covered several topics, each of which piqued my interest – making me ask “why” several times and prompted me to dive in a little deeper on some of them, which I will cover over the next few weeks but for now, I’ll start with Housing.
The survey’s intention was to understand military housing experiences and introduced a housing burden scale that asked respondents what percentage of their monthly income their mortgage equates to.
This scale specified a burden begins when expenses are 30% or more. Spending 50% indicates a housing burden and more than 50% is considered a severe housing burden.
*60% of military and veteran families report paying more than they can afford.
*44.9% of active-duty families & 20% of veteran/retiree families report a severe housing burden
What factors are military families facing that are causing a housing burden and added financial stress?
–Basic Housing Allowance (BAH): Some argue that it simply isn’t enough and is not keeping up with rising housing costs. Currently, BAH is calculated by a 3rd party contracted by the DOD to collect data on rental housing and utilities annually in roughly 300 areas across the country in the spring and summer each year.
–Affordable Housing: The past couple of years have seen rental and housing costs rising at the fastest rates in decades due to the pandemic and supply shortages, amount other things. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price for existing homes saw an increase of over 23% in 2021.
–Competitive Markets: Many military families have found themselves living in highly competitive markets where they simply cannot afford to buy a home or are being outbid, sometimes by $100,000 or more OR having to pay several hundred dollars over BAH in rent.
Solutions & Recommendations
MFAN feels that the recent survey results confirm that military and veteran families are burdened by rising housing cost and that action needs to be taken to relieve the stress and strain this is causing.
–Right Size BAH: This past year we saw BAH rates boosted by around 5% in 258 of the 300 communities. The other 42 areas saw a decrease.
A temporary increase for 56 areas was approved at the end of last year, qualifying around 200,000 service members for a small bump to offset the rapid increases the market had experienced, however, according to the DOD, only a little over 4,000 service member’s claims have been approved.
Although any increase is welcome, many agree that 5% is not enough when housing costs are rising as rapidly as they have been in recent years.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley recently stated that he will “personally take a hard look” at recommending increases to BAH this year in areas where troops are seeing these skyrocketing housing cost.
Many other leaders are also recognizing the need for “Right Size BAH” and have introduced bills that they hope, if passed, will help military families reduce and/or eliminate housing burdens.
The BAH Restoration Act (H.R. 7561) proposes that the DoD restore BAH to full coverage of the cost of adequate housing in given areas based upon the service member’s rank and dependency status. (BAH was at 100% prior to 2015 when the DoD began reducing it by 1% a year down to 95%, which is where it is now)
The BAH Calculation Improvement Act (H.R. 7562) will require DoD to report to Congress on the accuracy of the current system used to calculate BAH and if using mean and median costs is the appropriate method when calculating rates in existing housing areas. It would also require recommendations on utilizing school district information for calculating purposes (since better districts often have higher rental rates) and whether BAH should be calculated more frequently.
The Military Housing Affordability Act of 2022 (H.R. 8281) would provide a 2-year extension to the defense secretary’s authority to enact a temporary increase to BAH in areas where the cost of housing is 20% or more than the service members’ BAH.
Many feel it’s time to act and recalculating BAH is the first step to ensuring military families are in a better position to maintain a healthy and happy family life.
MFAN is constantly working to improve the current state of the military housing crisis and developed the Military Housing Roundtable in 2020 to address these issues. You can find out more or get involved by visiting their website: https://www.mfan.org/topic/network-advisors/military-housing-roundtable/