Military Family Housing:

Opportunities Exist to Reduce Costs and Mitigate Inequities

NSIAD-96-203: Published: Sep 13, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) military family housing program to determine whether the program: (1) is cost-effective; and (2) provides equal housing benefits to all military families.

GAO found that: (1) DOD reliance on private-sector housing to meet military family housing needs is cost-effective; (2) the government's cost is significantly less when military families receive housing allowances to live in private housing; (3) the cost difference for each military family living in private housing ranges from $3,200 to $5,000 annually; (4) families living in private housing pay a portion of their housing costs and have a greater selection of housing options to meet their needs; (5) DOD is not maximizing its use of private housing due to its reliance on inaccurate housing requirements, concerns with military quality of life standards, reluctance to designate more government housing for use by junior personnel, and inaccurate categorization of affordable private housing; (6) the housing benefits afforded to service members within the same pay grade differ depending on whether the members live in government or private housing; (7) members living in private family housing have less disposable income than members in the same pay grade living in government family housing; (8) DOD has taken initiatives to increase housing allowances and encourage private family housing to reduce service members' reliance on government housing; and (9) DOD needs to take additional steps to ensure the maximum use of private housing and the equitable distribution of benefits among military families.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the DOD working group on housing allowances considers housing allowance changes that could result in greater flexibility in addressing housing problems and cost savings through greater reliance on private housing. For example, the group should consider whether: (1) housing allowances should be based on average housing costs in an area, rather than actual member housing expenditures; and (2) housing allowances could be used in new, innovative ways to solve specific housing problems more economically than constructing or renovating government housing.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Congress approved DOD's request for major changes in the housing allowance program starting in 1998. Allowances in the future will be based on average housing costs in each geographic area. This should make more private housing affordable for military members and their families.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct installation commanders to redesignate, to the maximum practical level, government housing reserved for senior personnel for use by junior personnel in areas where private housing is available and affordable for senior personnel but not for junior personnel. To reduce the potential impact on the families of senior personnel, this action could be accomplished over a phased period of time.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD reemphasized the need for installation commanders to provide for the housing needs of junior enlisted members and their families. However, DOD does not plan to direct installation commanders to redesignate senior housing for use by junior members.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop information to better quantify the relationship between quality of life and family housing. The information should reflect service members' desires and preferences for private versus government housing under various circumstances, such as if housing allowances were increased, if rent or utilities were charged for government housing, and if no changes were made to the current program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD contracted with the RAND Corporation to conduct a study of service member desires and preferences for family housing. The study results were used in the development of a new housing allowance program implemented in 1998.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should revise the housing requirements process by issuing guidance to ensure that the process: (1) matches military housing requirements with available private housing before matching the requirements with government housing; and (2) considers suitable, affordable rental vacancies in excess of normal market levels to be available to the military. The revised guidance should take into account the results of the DOD Inspector General's review of the housing requirements process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Center for Naval Analysis is studying improvements in the DOD housing requirements determination process. This study is due to be completed in September 2000.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should establish a long-term goal to reduce the use of government family housing in the United States to the minimum possible level. The goal should limit government housing to families assigned to locations where no adequate private housing alternative exists and to the small number of families that reside on base for military necessity.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD is committed to constructing or acquiring new government housing only at locations where adequate private housing is unavailable. Congress has required the services to develop housing master plans that will show how each service plans to integrate various housing tools to meet service requirements. Plans are due by July 1, 2000. In addition, the Center for Naval Analysis is studying improvements in the DOD housing requirements determination process. This study is due to be completed in September 2000.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop plans to reduce the difference in the average amounts paid for housing by families of service members in the same pay grade by requiring families that live in government housing pay a portion of their housing costs. These plans should include milestones for implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not plan to require members living in government housing to pay a portion of their housing costs. DOD believes that to begin charging members for any costs when living in government housing would be viewed as a cut in military benefits.

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