Office of Rep. Marilyn Strickland announcement.
On April 21, Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (WA-10) introduced a package of legislative bills, to improve access and affordability for our men and women in uniform. This package, Ensuring Every Servicemember Has a Home, contains four separate but connected bills–the BAH Restoration Act, the BAH Calculation Improvement Act, the Increasing Homeownership and for Servicemembers Act, and the Building More Housing for Servicemembers Act. These bills seek to ensure that our servicemembers and their families have access to affordable housing–whether they are in the South Sound stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord or serving across the nation. Strickland, who serves on the House Committee on Armed Services, introduced this package of bills to build off stakeholder and community-based inputs the Congresswoman has received since taking office in January 2021.
“With rising housing costs and supply shortages in the South Sound and across the nation, many of our servicemembers and their families are unable to access safe and affordable housing,” said Strickland. “The Ensuring Every Servicemember Has a Home package focuses on four components to address this housing crunch and give our servicemembers options. Through their courageous service, our nation’s servicemembers have a right to be safely and adequately housed. It is Congress’ responsibility to ensure we can provide them with that opportunity.”
“As a result of the pandemic and rampant inflation, the housing market has undergone dramatic shifts, exacerbating the challenges military families face during PCS moves,” said Military Officers Association of America President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret). “We are pleased to see the introduction of legislation that addresses the problems with calculating current housing allowances to keep pace with rapid market changes resulting in many military families paying over $200 out of pocket for housing costs.”
“Maintaining the vitality of BAH is crucial to sustaining financial readiness and improving military quality of life,” said Air Force Sergeants Association Chief Executive, Keith A. Reed. “Especially during this past PCS season, service members and their families were negatively impacted due to volatile market conditions and a lack of available and affordable housing. The various measures championed by Congresswoman Strickland would restore BAH to its just coverage of 100% and provide increased access to affordable housing in underserved areas. The AFSA is proud to support each of these bills and calls on all members of Congress to support their expeditious codification in public law.”
“Full and accurate Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is a necessity for the economic wellbeing of service members and families,” said Brittany Dymond, Associate Director with the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Legislative Service. “As housing costs continue to soar and budgets are stretched, it is imperative that BAH not only reflects local market rents but is also paid to recipients in full—not a partial amount. The VFW applauds Representative Strickland for her attention to this issue by introducing The BAH Calculation Improvement Act and The BAH Restoration Act that together would ensure BAH is appropriately calculated and paid to recipients at the 100 percent rate.”
“Through our research, MFAN learns directly from military families what they value in a home and why they choose to live where they do. Relative to their civilian counterparts, our data consistently show that service members and their families are disproportionately affected by housing barriers like availability, affordability, purchasing power, and poor living conditions,” said Shannon Razsadin, President and Executive Director of the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN). “We commend Representative Strickland and her colleagues for introducing legislation that would bring transparency and oversight to the process and, most importantly, provide solutions for affected military families living on- and off-base.”
“Our research has shown that housing costs have been a major source of financial stress for military families for years, that the Basic Allowance for Housing has not been sufficient to cover out-of-pocket costs, and those concerns have only worsened during the current housing crisis,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO and Board President, Blue Star Families. “In response, we recommended restoring BAH to cover 100% of housing costs and requested that DoD take into consideration issues such as school district quality and housing availability when calculating BAH. We are thrilled to support legislation that will advance these recommendations and make life easier for thousands of military families.”
Servicemembers are entitled to a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which seeks to provide equitable housing compensation based on housing costs in local civilian housing markets within the United States. BAH rates are based on local area rental market data, varying by geographic duty station, pay grade, and dependency status. The Department of Defense hires a contractor to survey rental markets each year, looking for median rent, and utilities for six different types of properties. This system often lags behind dynamic changes in the housing market, especially in areas like the South Sound and Western Washington, where there is a significant housing crunch.
To address this crisis Congresswoman Strickland is introducing four pieces of legislation.
- The Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Restoration Act – This bill will help servicemembers and their families make ends meet by restoring the full BAH benefit. In FY2015, Congress changed BAH so that the Department could impose cost-sharing on servicemembers.
- The BAH Calculation Improvement Act – This bill would direct the Department to examine the current BAH rates’ efficiency and efficacy, determine if BAH should be calculated more often, if school districts can be included in BAH calculations, and if there is an algorithm the Department can develop that would be more effective. Given the amount of publicly available data in the rental market, it is far past time for the Department to look at alternative, more responsive, and transparent ways to calculate BAH.
- Increasing Homeownership for Servicemembers Act – This bill would direct the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study to study the barriers to ownership for members of the Armed Forces. With frequent moves and other potential barriers, the opportunity to own a home and build family wealth is out of reach for many servicemembers.
- Building More Housing for Servicemembers Act – This bill works to incentivize private developers and on-base housing providers to build more housing designed for servicemembers, particularly those who have a lower income. The bill establishes several pilot programs and direct reports to incentivize the building of housing. These pilot programs include using the Rental Partnership Program as a tenant assurance program for developers, a joint pilot program with the Departments of Defense and Housing and Urban Development to provide financial incentives for the development of housing for low-income servicemembers and civilians, and a joint grant program with the Department of Defense and Housing and Urban Development administered by the Office of Local Defense Community Partnerships for developers to build housing. The bill would also direct the Department of Defense to study the feasibility of acquiring property for housing development near installations that face a shortage.
U.S. Representative Marilyn Strickland serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and is the only African-American woman who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. She is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, is one of the first Korean-American women elected to Congress and is the first African-American elected to represent the Pacific Northwest at the federal level.