Demand for housing at Grand Forks Air Force Base on the riseGRAND FORKS — Demand for housing at Grand Forks Air Force Base is on the rise, but the number of available homes isn’t keeping pace.
By: Brandi Jewett, Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — Demand for housing at Grand Forks Air Force Base is on the rise, but the number of available homes isn’t keeping pace.
Of the base’s 577 homes, all but one — a unit undergoing repair — is occupied. Base dormitories for unaccompanied military personnel also are filling up, with 319 of the 344 occupied.
The housing scarcity comes just as the base might be considered for a new mission that will potentially increase the number of personnel by up to 200.
Terry Hanson, executive director of the Grand Forks Housing Authority, said the number of new personnel coming in for the current Global Hawk mission will be easily absorbed by the community in terms of finding housing.
But additional personnel arriving for future missions would be a tighter fit.
“The concern is that we’re not ready to accept that many more people into the community,” he said.
The base’s housing units reached maximum capacity in August after a gradual 13-month period of growth.
“Part of the increase is attributed to the buildup of our tenant partners, which is expected to grow over the next year,” Lt. Col. John Winkler said.
Still, Winkler said the base won’t be getting additional capacity anytime soon. That’s because the base’s current housing supply is greater than the requirements identified by a Housing Requirements Market Analysis conducted in 2010 by the Department of Defense.
“The 2010 Housing Requirements Market Analysis update assessed the ability of local area private sector housing to meet the projected needs of our military families,” Winkler said.
The study indicated the military family housing requirement the base needed was 394 units. Because previous missions drove housing requirements, the base currently has and will retain 547 relatively new units, Winkler said.
The total Military Housing Requirement is based on a five-year planning period, beginning in 2009 and ending in 2014.
In the report, by 2014, the base is projected to support 2,136 personnel who are authorized housing — including 1,192 military families and 653 unaccompanied personnel.
If the base is issued a new mission, a new housing market analysis might be requested, Winkler said.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 2,300 people live on the base. Those choosing to live on-base do not pay rent because they forfeit their Basic Allowance for Housing — money provided by the military for housing costs.
BAH is based on geographic duty location, pay grade and dependency status. According to the 2012 BAH numbers for Grand Forks, the lowest ranking personnel with dependents receive $867 per month, while the highest-ranked personnel receive $1,917.
Without dependents, the personnel would receive $651 and $1,437 respectively.
Meanwhile, the available housing stock is being highlighted as a one of the base’s positive attributes when considered for a new mission.
“Our facilities are some of the best in the Air Force,” Col. Timothy Bush, base commander, told Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., at a recent Base Retention Committee meeting.
Bush also noted that 547 of the base’s homes were constructed between 1997 and 2006. The remaining 30 homes, built in 1964, were renovated in 2001, according to Winkler.
Other homes constructed in 1964 are scheduled for demolition over the next few years because of the high costs associated with renovation.
The base has seen a population decrease of more than 50 percent since 2000 and a decrease of 39 percent in military jobs since 2004.
Since 2000, a total of 1,040 units have been demolished. In the past 10 years, the housing inventory has dropped from 1,462 units to 833, of which 286 more units are scheduled for demolition, according to Winkler.
Of the remaining homes offered on the base, 238 are duplexes, 12 are four-plexes and 53 are single family homes.
With the demand for housing continuing to increase, personnel also can expect to wait months to get into a place on base, according to Winkler.
High-ranking Air Force members might wait one to three months for a home while lower ranking members might wait three to six months. The base has taken steps to decrease the waiting time, Winkler said.
“In order to decrease housing wait times and to provide affordable housing for our younger airmen, 176 homes on the base were re-designated to allow younger airmen to receive available homes,” he said.
With no plans to expand the base’s housing inventory, potential future personnel would have to find housing in nearby communities. If the base secured a new mission, this could mean 100 to 200 new people arriving in the area, Winkler recently told the city’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Housing Commission — a group looking into the city’s housing supply and affordability issues.
“New arrivals seek a wide variety of housing such as apartments, duplexes, townhomes and single family houses,” Winkler said. “The biggest challenge is (finding) affordable and pet-friendly housing.”
That challenge could intensify as Grand Forks battles its own affordable housing shortage.