For the first time in my life, I don’t know if I will have a roof over my head.
My family is one of the many military families struggling to find any sort of housing that does not dramatically exceed our BAH (basic housing allowance).
I currently live in a civilian community. My serving parent works at US Southern Command, which sits on a small installation in South Florida about 45 minutes away. There is no military housing on the base, so we opted to move to a neighboring county to have access to better schools.
When we moved here in 2019, we had plenty of trouble finding a house. For most of the summer and early fall, we lived out of a camping trailer as we searched for a house big enough for our family of five (plus our dog). We made four or five offers to buy different houses, and after they all fell through, we decided to rent a small, two-story house in one of the suburbs of Ft. Lauderdale. It was just barely within our BAH, but we were thrilled to finally have a residence, especially since a hurricane was about to roll through.
For the past two years, this house has been our refuge. I’ve spent countless hours out on the porch, watching the sunset. Our kitchen has rung with laughter and our stairs have seen me trip many times as I’ve rushed down to tell my parents something exciting. We were so lucky to have a roof over our heads and a house to isolate ourselves in as multiple hurricanes and a pandemic blew our way.
All this changed in April. Our landlord called to inform us that he would not renew our lease and was selling our house. The housing market in South Florida was exploding; demand was high, supply was low, and prices were skyrocketing. We have to be out of the house by the expiration of this year’s lease in late August even though our orders will not expire until the summer of 2022.
Immediately, my family started looking for houses. But, with the housing market boom, we have not been able to find anything suitable for the size of our family that is within our BAH. Rental houses are far and few between, and the available ones are hundreds or even thousands of dollars over what the Army allotts us. We tried moving outside our school zone, but there is absolutely nothing available. We have considered downsizing significantly, but that would require us to store a lot of our household goods, costing around a third of our BAH, while still paying an exorbitant amount in rent.
Additionally, since we are not changing duty stations, the Army is not paying for our move. We have to do a DITY move, but we are not getting reimbursed for it.
With these crazy circumstances, I am worried not only for my family but also for my SOUTHCOM military community. I am worried about our younger soldiers who may not have the resources and experience my family has to navigate this expensive obstacle. I am worried about our incoming soldiers and their families who are stuck in AirBnBs and hotel rooms for the foreseeable future as rent and housing prices continue to rise. I am worried about military families opting to live in trailers as hurricane season begins to reach its peak.
This problem is not unique to SOUTHCOM; soldiers are being kicked out of their homes and/or thrust into brutally expensive housing markets all over the country, from JBLM to Fort Bragg to Fort Campbell. Many bases have a long waitlist for their military housing, and the market in the civilian community provides few options for service members. They are struggling in this post-pandemic market to find anything liveable and financially manageable, and their cries for help are often being ignored. There have been promises made, but little action has been taken to help these soldiers and their families who are quite literally houseless.
The Department of Defense needs to support our military families that are struggling to find housing right now. We need to raise the BAH to cover 100% of local rent, so our soldiers are not acquiring debt or depleting their savings to buy or rent houses that barely fit their families. We need to cover local moves for service members that have been displaced from their homes. We need leaders, both on the local and national levels, to take this crisis seriously and deal with it swiftly; they need to focus both on supporting the mission and the people carrying it out.
As I am writing this, my family is still stuck. It is now mid-July, and with about seven weeks until the expiration of our lease, we are just as lost as we were in April. We jump on every new house for rent that pops up in the area, only to be outbid by hundreds to thousands of dollars. We are considering possibly moving in with a neighbor or moving back into a trailer for the remaining 11 months we have in Florida.
To those reading who are in the same situation, I’m sorry. I understand the fear, stress, frustration, and cost this crisis brings, and I’m so sorry you have to endure it as well.
To those reading who are not in the same situation, I beg of you, please do what you can to help. One of the most beautiful things about the military community is that we are always there for each other; the military community is a family, and families look out for each other. If a friend or neighbor is being kicked out of their house, help them pack boxes. Reach out to your garrison commander or Congressperson about the crisis; ask them what they are doing to support military families that can’t find housing. Support organizations like Blue Star Families and National Military Family Association that advocate for military families in all circumstances.
And finally, to any leaders that may be reading this, please take action. The United States spends more money on its military than any country in the world; I think it is rational to ask that they ensure that each of their service members has a roof over their head. The men and women of our military are asked to go above and beyond to serve this country, leaving their families and deploying into harm’s way within a moment’s notice; the least we can do is give them a place to live.