Where Housing Is Least and Most Affordable for Military Families

They move more often than most and tend to rent rather than own.
by | May 11, 2016
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Military families move quite often, relocating about every two and a half years on average.

So it’s not surprising that they generally prefer to rent rather than own a home. But affordability has become a problem in some areas around military bases where rents have climbed in recent years.

Research published by real estate website Trulia on Wednesday depicts sizable variation in rental housing affordability across regions.

The least affordable areas identified were Fayetteville, Ark., and the Florida Keys, where fewer than one in 10 Trulia rental listings were affordable for those with dependents in the four lowest military pay grades. In the area surrounding the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. -- home to about 8,200 military personnel -- only 11.7 percent of rentals were similarly affordable to personnel with dependents.

The report examined military housing areas -- groups of federally defined ZIP codes near some form of military installation -- across the country, comparing rent prices with housing stipends provided by the federal government. The majority of the least affordable areas were large cities or in coastal regions and other areas tied to tourism.

Members of the military receive a housing stipend based on their pay grades, adjusted for local rent and utility costs. Personnel with children receive higher housing allowances (an average of about 31 percent more than those without dependents), although families with one child receive the same as those with multiple children. Typically, about three-quarters of housing stipends pay for rent costs, with the remainder going to utilities, so Trulia calculated the share of all rentals in an area not exceeding 75 percent of the housing allowance.

This table shows affordability for military personnel in the four lowest pay grades, who collectively make up just over half of enlisted personnel:

Source: Trulia; Affordability and housing stipend shown for personnel with dependents in pay grades E01-E04

 

For larger families, cost burdens can be much greater. These families require units with more bedrooms, and the Trulia data reflects listings with a median of approximately two bedrooms per unit. Limited availability of rentals with more than two bedrooms also presents a concern, particularly in urban areas, as the vast majority of rental units have no more than two bedrooms.

The same challenges are faced by families across many of the nation’s largest cities. On average, about 52 percent of households in the 25 most populated cities spend more than the standard 30 percent of income on gross rent costs (which include utilities), according to Census estimates. About a quarter of households even report spending half or more of income on housing expenses.

Teachers, public safety personnel and other local government employees often struggle to afford housing costs in areas where prices have skyrocketed.

The most affordable areas for military families in the Trulia analysis tended to be smaller cities or rural areas. More than three-quarters of rental listings were considered affordable in the Rock Island, Ill., and Saginaw, Mich., military housing areas, for example. The New Haven-Fairfield, Conn., area was deemed the most affordable area, due in large part to the high $3,000 monthly housing stipend for that region.

Trulia also assessed housing affordability for single military personnel without dependents by analyzing listings data on studio and one-bedroom units. Affordability was generally found to be much better than it was for those with dependents -- likely more of a result of the overall lack of affordable family housing than differences in housing stipend amounts.