By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), who serves on the House Committee on Armed Services, recently introduced a package of legislative bills to help improve access to housing and affordability for our men and women in the armed services.
The bill package, Ensuring Every Servicemember Has a Home, contains four separate but connected bills – the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Restoration Act, the BAH Calculation Improvement Act, the Increasing Homeownership and for Servicemembers Act, and the Building More Housing for Servicemembers Act.
According to Strickland, the military, its bases and personnel are microcosm of society itself. It is a self-governing body yet its issues of equality and inclusion mirror those of the greater society. And these bills provide an opportunity to “alleviate cost that our servicemembers and their families are paying but also looking at more land usage to try and build more housing,”
“This [bill] is my way of recognizing a few things,” says Strickland. “If you look at military bases, they are like miniature cities unto themselves. So, we are asking cities around the region to look at zoning and land use that will allow us to build more housing to increase density.”
For military families, BAH is based on your pay grade, dependency status and the location of your duty station. It is intended to provide money to cover your housing and related costs in the civilian market when government quarters are not provided.
These bills seek to ensure that servicemembers and their families have access to affordable housing–whether they are in the South Sound stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord or serving at other bases across the nation.
“With rising housing costs and supply shortages in the South Sound and across the nation, many of our servicemembers and their families are unable to access safe and affordable housing,” says Strickland. “The Ensuring Every Servicemember Has a Home package focuses on four components to address this housing crunch and give our servicemembers options. Through their courageous service, our nation’s servicemembers have a right to be safely and adequately housed. It is Congress’ responsibility to ensure we can provide them with that opportunity.”
For many military personnel and their families, BAH has not been enough to meet the growing needs of their families and this has been an issue for debate for several years.
“Our research has shown that housing costs have been a major source of financial stress for military families for years,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO and Board President, Blue Star Families. “The Basic Allowance for Housing has not been sufficient to cover out-of-pocket costs, and those concerns have only worsened during the current housing crisis. In response, we recommended restoring BAH to cover 100% of housing costs and requested that [Department of Defense] take into consideration issues such as school district quality and housing availability when calculating BAH. We are thrilled to support legislation that will advance these recommendations and make life easier for thousands of military families.”
In order to determine BAH for an area, the Department of Defense hires a contractor to survey rental markets each year, looking for median rent, and utilities for six different types of properties. This system often lags behind dynamic changes in the housing market, especially in areas like the South Sound and Western Washington, where there is a significant housing crunch.
“Full and accurate Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is a necessity for the economic wellbeing of service members and families,” said Brittany Dymond, Associate Director with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Legislative Service. “As housing costs continue to soar and budgets are stretched, it is imperative that BAH not only reflects local market rents but is also paid to recipients in full—not a partial amount. The VFW applauds Representative Strickland for her attention to this issue by introducing The BAH Calculation Improvement Act and The BAH Restoration Act that together would ensure BAH is appropriately calculated and paid to recipients at the 100 percent rate.”
With the changes in the housing market due to market fluctuations, the affect the pandemic has had on the market, Congress and the military are looking for ways to equal the playing field and lower cost when it comes to the needs and well-being of servicemen and women.
“This is important to me because number one I come from a military family and number two as a member of congress the Federal Government does play a role in trying to address the housing crisis,” said Strickland. “Most of this is local land use and it is working with the public and private sectors to build more housing, but if we can do something at the federal level to encourage more houses to be built it will benefit the entire region.”