Texas

‘Crazy’ housing market hits military families hard when they have to move

From the American project Homefront:

The past year has been a whirlwind for Lisa Koroma and her family of five.

They’ve packed everything they need to move from South Korea to Colorado Springs after Koroma’s military-serving husband was ordered last fall to move from Camp Humphreys to Fort Carson.

“It was the worst move I have ever experienced,” Koroma said. “I feel like we’re just not well prepared for what we’re facing.”

Koroma’s disillusionment and weariness with the move is evident as she details her family’s problems, which really started to escalate when they ended up in the States. The base housing in Fort Carson was full, which meant they needed to stay at a hotel while they looked for accommodation.

It took about a month in the hot housing market to find something that could fit her family.

“We were in a hurry at this point because we had hotel bills and breakfast, lunch and dinner because you are in a hotel for a family of five,” she said. “We’re like, ‘Whatever it is, we’ll take it!’

But they made compromises, Koroma added, such as the cost of the house and the school she prefers for her children. The rent they live on is now worth more than the monthly housing allowance her husband receives from the army, she said.

However, it was better than the extra hotel bills. At that time, the Ministry of Defense covered the cost of temporary accommodation for only 10 days.

“And they don’t cover the whole part because we had two rooms,” Koroma said. “It was like they just assumed the soldier was moving, so they covered the soldier but not the family.”

There were other out-of-pocket expenses, she said, such as renting cars and furniture while they waited for their cars and belongings to arrive from South Korea. Overall, Koroma estimates that her family spent about $10,000 of their own money on the move.

“If I had known that, we would have prepared better,” she said. “We’re using credit cards that we still haven’t paid on these bills. So we’ll chip in on that.”

“Gloomy” and “nightmare” experiences

Koroma’s move as a military family last year is hardly unique.

September move and housing pulse check from Blue Star Families found that military families spend more time and money looking for housing when they change jobs.

“Already moving to a new assignment is a challenge, and we as military families are very comfortable with this role,” said Kimberly Gold, one of the study’s authors. “But now to hear that military families use ‘grim’ and ‘nightmare’ as a recurring theme. It doesn’t give me peace.”

Almost half of the families surveyed needed temporary accommodation for more than 20 days. In some extreme cases, this time has exceeded 90 days.

The Ministry of Defense covers only 14 days of temporary accommodation costs, which it extended from 10 days earlier this year.

Once families manage to find housing, they report spending an average of $336 a month more than their military housing allowance on rent or mortgages, not including utilities.

These additional costs accumulate and take money from other parts of the budget of military families, in particular from food, says Seasare Galvan, who leads the fairness, diversity, equality and inclusiveness for Armed forces housing advocates.

“When you spend more money on one thing, you end up with less money on something else,” she said. “This affects not only families but also the military, because if you are worried about whether your children have eaten this morning, you are not focusing on your work.”

Gold said other things that take a backseat to military families include household items and trips to visit friends and family.

“They sacrifice all those little things that make life a little sweeter,” she said. “Why have we come to the point where we seem to be sacrificing everything?”

Fluctuations in the housing market caused by the pandemic and high inflation have exacerbated the situation for military families, who already have little authority over when and where they move, said Jessica Strong, another author of the Blue Star Families study.

“They can wait a bit in temporary housing if they want to move into military housing, which they know will cost less over time,” she said. “Or they may feel pressure to move into permanent housing sooner rather than waiting months on end.”

“This PCS really just ruined us”

For military families looking to save money by using military housing, the wait can be months or even years, Strong said. And it’s not a silver bullet.

Dina Johnson, her Navy-born husband, and their two daughters moved to Whidbey Island, Washington in October this year and have chosen to live in a post house run by a private company.

A house comparable to the one they now live in costs $2,800 a month, she said, far more than the $2,100 a month housing allowance Johnson’s husband receives from the Navy. Prior to his promotion to Navy First Class, their allowance was $1,500 per month.


“The housing market here is crazy,” Johnson said. “We looked at our budget and thought we just couldn’t pay more than our housing allowance.”

But the military housing experience was far from smooth. From negotiating paperwork to removing the smell of tobacco from their garage, Johnson said everything was an ordeal.

“Every time we tried to talk to them, it was like we were bothering them,” she said.

She and her husband are now reconsidering whether their entire family will move the next time a permanent station change or PCS order is issued, Johnson said.

“This PCS really just ruined us,” she said. “We have two small children and we did not want to leave each other. Like we were trying to make military housing work for us.”

– When are you leaving?

Johnson and her husband are also considering leaving the military entirely.

This is a common thought among many military families, Gold says.

“We have stories of family members pushing and encouraging their service members to leave the military because they say they can’t afford it mentally or financially,” she said.

The Department of Defense has responded to some of the housing concerns military families face. In September of this year, the basic housing allowance for military personnel was temporarily increased some markets where rents have gone up. But they are applied only in 28 places across the country.

Colorado Springs, where Lisa Koroma’s family lives, is not one of them.

She says that because of this move, she asks her husband if he can leave the army soon.

“I slap him on the back every day: “When. When are you leaving?” she said. “He’s close to the mark where he can get out and no one will say anything.”

This is not necessarily what she or her husband wants. Koroma expressed deep gratitude for what the military provided for her family.

“I love the military; my husband loves the military,” she said. “We love what it has given us: his career, his education. Some education for me was paid for by a soldier bill, which I wholeheartedly took advantage of.”

But Koroma explained that her family needs more support from the military for this lifestyle to make sense, especially after the challenges they faced moving this time around.

“I never want to do it again,” she said.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a collaborative public media project that highlights American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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