Off Base

La Mesa Village in Monterey is one of several off-base military housing communities totaling 2,400 units on the Monterey Peninsula. Another 108 units are under construction.

For military service members who get assigned to one of the Monterey Peninsula’s military installations – whether the Presidio of Monterey, Naval Postgraduate School, or the U.S. Coast Guard – it’s likely they will become renters.

And while it’s not possible to know exactly what impact the region’s military installations have on the local rental market, they represent a sizable population. There are about 5,000 service members locally, who also have about 7,500 family members, according to Noah Rappahahn, the Presidio of Monterey’s deputy chief of public affairs. (The Presidio of Monterey, aka POM, provides all local service members assistance on housing issues.)

Per the latest U.S. Census, that number of people – about 12,500 – amounts to about 20 percent of the combined populations of Monterey and Seaside, where the military’s local installations are situated (POM has facilities in Seaside and Monterey).

And the way military members participate in the rental market, based on calculations made in Washington, D.C., might be skewing things for other renters.

For the year 2022, the basic housing allowance rate for service members at the Presidio of Monterey increased 6.8 percent, and nationwide they rank fourth-highest among all Army installations. Only married service members receive this entitlement, at least until they reach a certain rank – otherwise, they must live at the barracks at the Presidio in Monterey, where the Defense Language Institute is located.

BAH rates are set by the military on a sliding scale based on the local market conditions and rank. The lowest-ranking on the Monterey Peninsula will receive $2,667 per month this year, and for those without dependents, $2,001. In 2016, that same classification, called E1, received $1,890 and $1,455, respectively, which is an increase of 41 percent over six years. The BAH is meant to cover rent and utilities.

Per the 2020 U.S. Census, the median income for Monterey County residents between the years 2016-2020 (in 2020 dollars) was $50,603. The lowest BAH entitlement this year – $2,001 per month, or $20,012 per year – amounts to 47 percent of that median income.

Rappahahn says there are about 1,300 local service members across all branches of the military, including the Coast Guard, living in Army-owned housing at any given time.

The Army owns 2,400 units and has another 108 under construction locally. Rappahahn says most of those units are occupied, and that there are about 900 other residents – including Department of Defense personnel, civilians working for the Army, retirees, international military attending the Naval Postgraduate School, and others – who occupy units.

According to Rappahahn’s calculations, there are about 3,700 service members, and their families if they have them, in the rental market bolstered by a federally subsidized housing allowance that, even at its lowest level, is well above what a local resident earning the county’s median income could reasonably afford.

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THE HOUSING ALLOWANCES ARE BASED ON LOCAL COST OF LIVING ESTIMATES, but they do raise a chicken-or-the-egg question: Do the federal subsidies raise the cost of housing? Seaside City Councilmember Jon Wizard, who is a policy director for YIMBY Law – a San Francisco-based nonprofit with a mission that includes ensuring the state’s housing laws are enforced – thinks that it probably does.

“It jacks up housing prices,” Wizard says.

He adds that many landlords prefer military tenants because, among other reasons, “If you have drunken ragers, [the military can] make your life very unpleasant. So most who live off-base are good tenants.”

Wizard adds, “[If I were a landlord], why would I ever rent to anybody else? Uncle Sam will always write the check. They’ll always be respectful, decent tenants, [and landlords] can turn it over in two weeks once they leave. It totally perverts the housing market in the Monterey Bay.”

JIM COLANGELO SERVED AS CITY MANAGER OF PACIFIC GROVE FROM 2005-2009. Military installations have been something of a sacred cow since Fort Ord closed in 1995, doing lasting damage to the local economy; since then, regional officials have strategized about how to protect other installations in the event of another round of Base Realignment and Closure.

But Colangelo has a different idea. Speaking in 2014 at a fundraising event for the nonprofit LandWatch, Colangelo covered the topic of military housing and posited an idea: If local military institutions moved elsewhere, it would be a shot in the arm toward mitigating the housing crisis locally.

“In this area, you can’t build yourself out of [the housing crisis],” he says. One way to help lower that demand he says, “is stop fighting to keep these military bases.

“Send them to Kansas,” he says, or a similar place that could use a boost in economic development. “It’s not going to be a long-term solution, but it at least resets demand for awhile.”

He maintains the view is not anti-military, and believes it would also alleviate traffic problems created by hospitality workers on the Peninsula who can’t afford to live there. He also doesn’t think it would affect local businesses, as non-military renters also spend money on local goods and services.

“The people that will lose are the major landlords,” Colangelo says, “and a lot of those people have a lot of power in the county.”

(1) comment

Ron Chesshire

After the announcement of the downsizing of Ft Ord a considerable amount of discussion took place about military housing. John Robotti, then military housing director, had said the military was coming up with a plan to house all mitltary personnel in on base housing. At that itme there was an estimated 500+ families living off base. It is increasingly evident that this never happened. If it would have, there would be no need for housing subsidies to pay for transient military families who are competing against local residents for housing. But, this won't be the first time our government had good intentions.

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