Rental Housing Programs:

Excluding Servicemembers' Housing Allowances from Income Determinations Would Increase Eligibility, but Other Factors May Limit Program Use

GAO-06-784: Published: Jul 31, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2006.

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Mathew J. Scire
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Although the Department of Defense (DOD) pays active-duty servicemembers who do not live in military housing a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to help them afford private market residences, expected growth at some military installations has raised concerns about whether nearby communities will have enough affordable rental housing for incoming personnel. In response to a congressional mandate, GAO assessed (1) how excluding BAH would affect servicemembers' eligibility to apply for federal rental housing programs and (2) factors that could affect their use of the programs in selected communities gaining military personnel. GAO compared servicemembers' eligibility for the programs as of December 2005 by including and excluding BAH from income determinations and examined factors affecting potential program use near four growing military installations.

Excluding BAH from income determinations for federal rental housing programs would have substantially increased the percentage of servicemembers eligible to apply for the programs as of December 2005, assuming military pay was their only income. To be eligible to apply for rental assistance programs of the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Agriculture (USDA), or to live in units produced by the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, households must have incomes at or below a specific limit, generally 50 percent or 60 percent of the median household income for their area. At the 50 percent income limit, 20 percent of servicemembers who received BAH would have been eligible if BAH were excluded from income determinations, compared with 1 percent with BAH included. Most junior enlisted members would have been eligible if BAH were excluded, as would have small percentages of senior personnel. However, at all levels, many would not have been eligible if their households had even modest income from other sources. Agency and community officials cited factors that could limit the role of federal programs in building housing or helping servicemembers afford existing units near four installations that GAO examined. DOD officials said that servicemembers would be unlikely to need the programs because BAH payments provide for the median cost of market-rate housing. Some community officials said the tax-credit program, which spurs housing production, could be useful if more servicemembers qualified. But developers would have to compete for tax credits, and market factors--such as the financial feasibility of building units that junior enlisted members could afford--could limit their interest. The HUD and USDA programs might help some servicemembers rent existing units, but--because the programs are not entitlements--servicemembers could face lengthy waits, and eligible civilians might wait longer for assistance.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with our Matter for Congressional Consideration, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, enacted on July 30, 2008, included a provision excluding the military's basic allowance for housing from income determinations for a rental housing production program. Specifically, the provision states that the housing allowance should be disregarded for the purpose of determining the income of individuals and area median gross income for residential rental properties that receive tax-exempt multifamily housing bonds. The provision applies only to properties that would be located in counties that host or are adjacent to military installations whose number of active service members grew by at least 20 percent between December 31, 2005, and June 1, 2008.

    Matter: If the primary intent of excluding Basic Allowance for Housing from income determinations for federal rental housing programs is to help increase the supply of rental housing that servicemembers with the lowest incomes could afford, Congress may wish to consider first applying such a change only to programs intended to stimulate production of such housing, such as Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and tax-exempt multifamily housing bonds.


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