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Housing Pay: Allowances cut on Whidbey

"Before sailors from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station get to spend any money from a Jan. 1, pay raise, some are learning they’ll lose money too. That’s because along with the raise, the Pentagon implemented a program that will cut Navy housing allowances on Whidbey Island.“It’s going to really knock morale down,” Petty Officer 1st Class Rick Carroll said Friday. “For younger guys with little kids, it’s hard to live out in town now.”The reductions to the base’s Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH, range from $19 to $122 less per month. The housing allowance is a monthly stipend given to eligible military men and women — typically petty officers, or E-4’s and above — who live in private housing, most of whom are married or have dependent children. The military pays housing allowances because in most parts of the country, there are often more service members at military installations than there is room to house them in barracks or base housing. NAS Whidbey has about 7,500 active-duty sailors and enough military-owned housing, on or off-base, for about 3,400.Consequently about 4,612 Whidbey sailors draw housing allowances.The cuts won’t affect sailors currently stationed at NAS Whidbey. Their housing rates are grandfathered in. But they will affect any single Whidbey sailor who gains a dependent, gets married, or any sailor who reported to the base after Jan. 1.And therein lies the challenge for the base’s commanders, said NAS Whidbey’s commanding officer, Capt. Larry Salter.“Where the leadership challenge comes in, is when the E-5 (petty officer second class) comes in from Bremerton, Bangor or San Diego, and he’s making $95 less than an E-5 here, with the same number of dependents and the same number of bills,” Salter said. “How do you argue to that sailor that what he’s doing is $95 less important?”The fallout from the reduced housing allowances will spread to Oak Harbor’s housing market and general economy as well, said George Churchill, owner of Oak Harbor’s Churchill and Associates Inc. Real Estate.The Navy has long been the single largest employer on Whidbey Island.“We’re going to see less disposable income spent in our stores,” Churchill said. “If military personnel have to spend more on housing, they’ll spend less everywhere else.”Sharon Schuler, property manager for Acorn Property Management, is equally disturbed.“This is not a good thing,” Schuler said. “I’m getting young (military) kids in here that can barely afford to rent a house now, and rents are high on the island now.”Theresa Reed, manager of Whidbey Residential Rentals Inc. said rent for houses on Whidbey range from $450 for a not-necessarily-nice, one-bedroom house to more than $1,300 for a nice three-bedroom. Two-bedroom houses, the choice for many married sailors with small families, rent from between $600 and $1,000.Two-bedroom apartments range from $450 to $725, Reed said.But right now, Reed said, there are fewer houses than apartments for rent on Whidbey, so the cost of single family houses is going up. Under the Pentagon’s new policy, the monthly housing allowance on Whidbey will go down for all rates and ranks with dependents. For instance, for a petty officer second class with a wife and child, the allowance will drop from $695 to $600.For a Navy lieutenant commander, or O-4, with a wife and child, the housing allowance will drop from $1,020 per month to $903.“Did housing in town get cheaper overnight?” wonders Petty Officer 2nd class John Knapper.Knapper said that he lives in base housing, but if he lived in town he’d lose more than $100 under the new policy. The housing allowance rarely completely covers more than 80 to 90 percent of the cost of rent, let alone utilities, said Chief Bill Farley. As leading chief of NAS Whidbey's personnel support detachment, Farley helps troubleshoot pay problems, set up allotments and fixes pay problems for most NAS Whidbey sailors.“The big thing for Whidbey people is the utilities, especially if you have electric baseboard heating. Then there’s water, sewer and garbage,” Farley said. Oak Harbor recently increased water, sewer and garbage taxes by 7 percent.Capt. Salter said he had been hearing about the housing allowance changes but the news had been mostly positive.“We have been hearing at briefings from senior Navy officials that BAH would go up across the Navy,” Salter said. “It sounded like it was going to be an improvement, but the results were somewhat disappointing.” “People are incredulous that the rates went down,” Chief Farley said. “Most thought they were down low enough already.”"

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