Military Housing: Can It Be Fixed?

February 7, 2019

Photo: DVIDS

Picture this – it’s 2007, and the first iPhone just released. Anxious to begin our next military assignment, we were on our way to a tropical paradise knowing we’d won the assignment lottery — Hawaii!

Upon arrival, we looked at off-installation housing options but soon realized our Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) wasn’t enough to get us a beach condo without a commute. A toddler and a spouse who had to travel a lot made this decision exceedingly easy. The security and on-installation community won, hands-down.

The housing office on base offered us a historical unit not too far from the lovely harbor. I pictured myself jogging along the winding paths overlooking the water and sharing Mongolian BBQ with my neighbors, so we said yes!

A month later, our housing situation was not so idyllic. Termite droppings rained down on our stovetop, palmetto bugs (i.e., cockroaches) ate through bags of sugar in the cupboards, and raw sewage backed up into our kitchen sink on the regular.

Housing did try to remedy the situation by tenting the unit to exterminate any living termites and they roto-rootered the pipes to alleviate the plumbing issues. But, tree roots were at the heart of the problem and installation policies prohibited cutting down the old trees, so all fixes were temporary.

The final straw happened on July 4th weekend. Raw sewage had backed up the kitchen sink (again!), and we decided there was no way we were going to continue shelling out our BAH for this anymore. My spouse made a call to housing and explained the situation. Finally, they confirmed we could move into a newer unit a couple of streets away, and I’m sure the entire installation heard my shrieks of joy.

We wanted to ensure no one else would have to endure that hell, so we requested the sewage be taken care of before anyone else moved in — even if it meant revising the policy about the trees. Unfortunately, no one was willing to tackle that problem. Instead, we found out later that my spouse’s colleague got the house and the cycle began again.

I’m sharing this experience 11 years later because the stories reported by Reuters in 2018 tell me it’s still happening to military families today. We’ve had ten iterations of the iPhone, but quality housing for military families remains unsolved.

Respondents to the 2018 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, told Blue Star Families their top solution to improve quality of life is to offer better housing/increase BAH. With three-quarters of military families living off-installation today, this is a community issue as much as a Department of Defense (DoD) issue.

There are no easy answers, but 21st Century military families should have access to affordable housing — that’s not detrimental to their health —  on- and off-installation. As a military spouse who has lived the issue firsthand, I’m pleading for this problem to get fixed. And, I’m not alone.

Find out what other military families have to say about the housing crisis, and our overall well-being, at

Feb. 13, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will be meeting with the DOD and privatized housing officials. Here’s another opportunity to share your experience so we can amplify your voice to changemakers. Tell us your story here.

By Jennifer Hurwitz | Applied Research Manager