Defense department makes small increase to housing allowance

Sharna Johnson

New military housing allowance rates set to take effect Jan. 1 won’t offer much comfort to Cannon airmen struggling to meet their housing needs in Clovis.

According to a new Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rate chart released Wednesday by the Defense Department, airmen in Clovis will receive little to no increase in their housing allowances for 2011.

Some airmen with families will receive increases from $3 to $9 a month, while several ranks receive no increase and upper enlisted and officer ranks receive a reduction of more than $100, the rate chart shows.

Housing allowances at Cannon is an issue U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman has been asking Air Force and defense officials to look into for almost a year, with no results, according to spokeswoman Jude McCartin.

McCartin said some ground is expected to be made in the proposed defense authorization bill, in which Bingaman included a provision for the Government Accountability Office to study the formula used to calculate BAH rates, particularly in rural areas such as Clovis.

“For this year he’s disappointed that this problem persists,” she said.

“He is trying to change it for the future at least. He’s asking them to look at the formula… This is a problem, particularly in that community. We’re hoping the defense authorization bill will move in the next few days.”

But it won’t change the rates for the next 12 months, which didn’t change much from the prior year.

In January after 2010 BAH rates took effect, Bingaman wrote a letter to the Air Force Secretary asking him to look into the issue of housing allowances for Cannon airmen and difficulties they have had transitioning from Hurlburt Field Air Force Base, Fla.

“The transition from Hurlburt Field to Cannon Air Force Base involves large changes in cost of living and availability of housing stock, especially for the enlisted grades,” he wrote.

“The latest release of the housing allowance for the enlisted grades at Cannon show little if any change from the prior year, further aggravating an already tenuous situation.”

McCartin said Bingaman received no response to his letter.

The bill, stuck in filibuster, was derailed in the senate because of a debate over language which would repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.”

With a tight and expensive rental market and airmen transitioning from Florida where the housing market was depressed, Clovis Realtor Max Watt said the lack of increase will continue an already difficult situation for many airman.

Most airmen coming to Clovis from Florida had larger housing allowances there in a depressed housing market, she said.

But in Clovis, she said the housing market was not hit nearly as bad by the recent crunch.

“They moved here without that being their choice and they cant (find or afford houses),” she said.

“Our housing here; our prices were not depressed like so many other markets were. They came here expecting prices to be so much lower and they’re not.”

And Watt said the rental market is virtually non-existent.

She said a nationwide mortgage crisis has caused lenders to restrict the number of mortgages they can take out for homes that are not owner-occupied. She said that makes it hard to impossible for investors to buy and put new rentals on the market even in a climate like Clovis, where they know they would rent easily.

She has 12 properties but her lender has told her she can’t take on any more, because the new limit is four.

The dynamic has tied the hands of investors who would help, she said.

“The lending industry is keeping me and other investors from getting new properties,” she said.

“We see the need. It’s not like we don’t know what the need is and wouldn’t be glad to help out — It’s frustrating; it is very, very frustrating.”

Unfortunately, she said the lending industry has recalibrated itself in keeping with the problems experienced elsewhere and, “In Clovis we don’t have all those problems; We have the opposite.”

Defense Department officials have said the average increase in BAH for 2011 is about 1.1 percent.

Allowances have a provision ensuring against rate decreases in BAH where a military member is stationed and only apply if they move to a new base, so they are not penalized if they are under a lease or contract.