Navy conducting housing study

The Navy is conducting a study of housing in the area of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, according to Navy officials.

At the same time, the number of Navy personnel moving to the base in the next few years may not be quite as many as originally estimated.

Both of these announcements may offer some good news to those who are concerned about a shortage of affordable housing on Whidbey Island, expected to only worsen as the number of personnel on the base grows.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Navy’s plans to increase the number of EA-18G Growler aircraft estimates the number of Navy jobs on the base will increase by as much as 664 by 2019; the personnel will bring an estimated 910 dependents.

That’s a total of 1,574 new people associated with the base in the area.

The Navy, however, recently announced that fewer pilots will be moving to NAS Whidbey. Under the new plans, carrier squadrons with seven or eight aircraft will now have two fewer pilots assigned per squadron than originally anticipated.

Two fewer crews for seven or eight planes in the carrier squadrons would result in a reduction of 36 aircrew, according to Ted Brown, public affairs officer with U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

Brown said the decrease isn’t from budget cuts. He explained that officials developed the estimates in the draft EIS using the best data available at the time.

“Two years later we have better information on manning and budget resources and will analyze the new numbers,” he said.

According to a recent report by the Island County Planning Department, Navy officials also estimate a decrease of 90 personnel from the 2014 baseline in P-8 squadrons by 2021.

Still, the base will see a significant increase in personnel that may seriously exacerbate the affordable housing shortage. Real estate experts say the stock of houses worth $200,000 to $300,000 is extremely low, and new construction in that range is nearly nonexistent.

The rental market is even worse.

A few years ago, Navy officials said the base isn’t building new housing because there was considered to be surplus housing in the commute radius of 100 miles of the base.

The conclusion drew some criticism from those who said they think the Navy should do more to help with the housing problems. City and county officials say Navy families are living as far away as Sedro-Woolley and Stanwood because they can’t find places to live on Whidbey Island.

In a letter to the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Oak Harbor Schools Superintendent Lance Gibbon wrote that Navy families would prefer to have their children attend Oak Harbor schools, but limited housing may force families to live an hour or more away.

“This adds over 400 hours per year that military parents are commuting rather than spending quality time with their families,” he wrote.

Base and Island County officials confirmed that a housing study by the Navy is now underway.

A base spokesman said this week he doesn’t have the date for the study’s completion.

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