‘Not a Good Situation’: Off-Base Housing Crisis Has USAF Scrambling

Amid a wild housing market characterized by surging demand, rising prices, and abbreviated timelines, military members making permanent change-of-station moves are struggling to find affordable off-base housing.

Reddit, Facebook and other social media are filled with stories of Air Force and Space Force families struggling to secure housing over the past few months, and with PCS moves continuing into the late summer and fall, the problem isn’t over.

“We’re not in a good situation, and we’re very concerned about all of our service members that are PCSing at a time like this,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass acknowledged June 28 in a virtual “Coffee Talk,” saying she had heard stories of Airmen paying as much as $70,000 over the asking price for houses.

Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services, said the Basic Allowance for Housing rates are not keeping up with skyrocketing prices. Air Force leaders are looking for options to including asking the Defense Department to expedite a BAH rate review in locations where prices have increased at particularly high rates. 

DOD updates BAH rates each year Jan. 1, but “we’re moving lots of folks this summer,” Kelly said.

Maj. Holly A. Hess, an Air Force spokesperson, said installations experiencing 20 percent or greater cost increases in local rental markets should submit emergency requests to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for immediate decisions for possible rate adjustments.  

“We have reminded our installations to submit an out-of-cycle review for their specific housing areas where they are experiencing challenges in rental availability and affordability,” Hess said.

The Air Force has yet to identify specific installations for OSD review, Hess said. But data collected by Apartment List in June show Colorado Springs, Colo., Phoenix, Ariz., and Hampton, Va., all posting year-over-year rental cost increases of 15 percent or more.

Another potential course of action could be delaying PCS moves in certain markets.

“We’ve asked the MAJCOMs to identify for us any of those spaces and locations where the housing market just doesn’t sustain the amount of people who are moving into that area,” Kelly said. “If that’s the case, we’ll go back and look at adjusting our PCS schedule.”

No decision had been made as of July 7, Hess said. Such a move would have have broad implications for throughout the service. Some 22,000 Airmen are projected to move this year, Hess said, more than six percent of the service’s active duty members.

“Existing guidance is in place for [Report No Later Than Dates] change requests,” Hess said. “Specifically, RNLTD changes are approved in coordination with gaining and losing unit commanders. Members can submit a RNLTD change request through myPers that will prompt commanders’ coordination. AFPC will continue to liberally approve RNLTD changes for members facing difficulty scheduling household goods (HHG) shipments and will look at RNLTD change requests due to housing/rental shortages to identified locations.”

Another option could be extending eligibility for Temporary Lodging Expense. Currently, service members can only receive up to 10 days of allowance to partially reimburse them for temporary housing and meals while undergoing a PCS in the contiguous U.S.

However, Hess said potentially extending TLE is an option service leaders are considering, along with “multiple avenues to assist Airmen if they incur hardships due to housing availability or costs associated with a Permanent Change of Station.”

Amid these off-base housing challenges, Air Force Materiel Command announced July 6 that it was implementing the four remaining rights included in the Tenant Bill of Rights for base housing, including a universal lease, with the expectation of almost every installation offering those rights by October. The move follows years of controversy over privatized military housing, including allegations of fraud and lawsuits over poor conditions at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.