Housing costs are soaring, but the military is offering relief in the form of a permanent increase in housing allowance by up to $1,200 monthly for some service members.
The Department of Defense on Wednesday announced its increase in basic allowance for housing (BAH) for next year, which, in San Diego County, extends the temporary, emergency increase enacted in October as the nation faced staggering inflation.
Nationwide, the increase equates to an average of 12.1%, but in San Diego County, the increase shot upward as high as 36% for some ranks in effort to account for extraordinarily high housing costs.
“The significant increase in average BAH rates is reflective of the unique market conditions experienced across many locations nationwide over the past year,” the DoD said in a release.
The DoD employs 35,000 active duty military members, reservists, and civilians at North Island Naval Air Station, and Coronado hosts several military housing communities through the privatized property management company, Liberty Military Housing.
Though military personnel can opt to trade most or (usually) all of their BAH in exchange for military housing, waitlists for these homes stretch from several months to several years, with families often living in hotels or even campgrounds in the interim. In addition to shouldering the expense and discomfort of such a transient lifestyle, having no established address for that long complicates school enrollments for military children.
To escape the waitlist, some families opt to rent or buy in the local economy – if their paychecks can keep up. A three-bedroom rental in San Diego averages $4,100.
By contrast, enlisted sailors in 2022 were paid between $2,016 and $3,459 for housing. Enlisted ranks comprise 80% of the U.S. Navy’s personnel, making privatized housing the de facto choice for most families. At the 2023 rates, renting is more attainable, though BAH won’t cover all of an average rental.
The military’s privatized housing is generally cheaper and larger than what a renter or buyer would find in the local economy. In the Aero Ridge community, for example, a junior enlisted sailor with two children qualifies for a 4-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom duplex in exchange for full BAH, which this year was $2,676. (The 2023 rate sets it at $3,639.) Service members also do not pay their utility bills in these communities.
It’s a great deal on paper, except that Liberty Housing’s December numbers put the average community waitlist time at 8 months, with some Coronado communities as high as 50 months, and other communities listed as “indefinite.”
As they relocate to the area, military families flock to Facebook groups, where others share their dates: arrival date, housing offer date, move-in date — an effort to give incoming personnel insight into which communities are moving through waitlists fastest. On Wednesday, group members were reporting waits of 6-8 months.
The 2023 increase in BAH marks the largest the government has issued in 15 years, after the Government Accountability Office filed a 2021 report criticizing how the DoD calculates its allowances.
With more spending power in the local economy, the DoD hopes to ease the strain on families trying to rent, according to its release — although San Diego is itself facing a housing shortage.
|Rank||2022, with dependents||2022, without dependents||2023, with dependents||2023, without dependents|
|E1 – E4||$2676||$2016||$3639||$2730|
Megan Kitt is married to an active duty service member.