Military members and families affected by surging housing costs in 56 areas around the country may soon get relief through a temporary hike in their Basic Allowance for Housing.
DoD officials had not officially confirmed the initiative to Military Times by publication time, but the start is imminent, according to a Pentagon source with knowledge of the discussions. The temporary BAH hike has been approved by DoD personnel officials and is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, the source said.
A partial copy of an “action memo” within the Defense Department, which has been circulating on social media, requests temporary BAH increases of between 10 to 20 percent for 56 specific areas. The memo from J.B. Busch, DoD’s director of military compensation policy, to Leonard Litton, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, asks for Litton’s approval of the temporary BAH hikes and states the temporary rates would remain in effect through December 2021.
Typically, BAH rates are adjusted once a year and the new rates take effect Jan. 1.
According to several internal sources, officials are still hashing out the guidance for implementation of the temporary BAH hike. According to the memo, troops will have to request the additional BAH and quality for it based on certifying they have incurred higher housing costs. But there are no details yet on how that process will work.
In those 56 areas, “the large majority of members are expected to be eligible” but the exact percentage is unknown, according to the memo. Assuming the maximum number of certifications, the estimated cost to the services would be about $159 million, officials stated.
In July, Military Times reported on the difficulty troops and families have been facing as they move to new duty stations, with some paying hundreds of dollars more per month for rentals than their housing allowance covers, if they can even find a rental.
Some families delayed making their permanent change of station move, while others set up house in expanded RV campgrounds on base. Some told Military Times they had to live far from base just to find a rental or had to rent housing in unsafe neighborhoods or in less-than-satisfactory condition, while still sometimes paying more than their BAH.
Defense officials told Military Times then that they were exploring a temporary, out-of-cycle increase in BAH rates for some areas.
According to one list of the military housing areas in line for temporary BAH hikes, five would get a 20 percent increase; 11 would get a 15 percent increase; and 40 would get a 10 percent increase. It’s not clear whether the list is finalized, but the five areas with a 20 percent increase are listed as Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, California; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Boise, Idaho; Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; and Spokane, Washington.
The temporary increases don’t apply to every location. The most current list available — the 56 areas — represents about 18 percent of the 306 military housing areas in the country.
Military housing areas geographically group individual ZIP codes, and include rental markets surrounding a duty station or a metropolitan area. The individual MHAs are named for the installation or nearest city.
Defense officials contend they have the authority to temporarily increase the BAH because, by law, the secretary of defense can increase it by up to 20 percent when a president issues a national disaster declaration. On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The effects of COVID-19 on the rental market in the United States have resulted in housing availability shortages in many [military housing areas] resulting in significant increases in housing costs,” the memo states. “The temporary BAH increases are expected to partially offset the increases in out-of-pocket costs for service members in the most seriously affected [military housing areas].”
The increases will apply to all paygrades and all types of housing within an area. For example, an area may be designated for a 10 percent temporary increase, but the data for apartments may indicate a local increase in housing costs below 10 percent and the data for single family houses may indicate an increase in housing costs above 10 percent. However, all rates for all types of housing will be increased by 10 percent.
The memo clearly states that the increased BAH rates are only payable to troops who certify that they are paying higher costs. It appears this increase wouldn’t apply to military privatized housing, since the rent for privatized housing is based on actual BAH, which is paid by allotment directly to the privatized housing landlord. However, DoD hadn’t confirmed that by press time.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.