The Department of the Air Force's 2023 budget request included a substantial increase in funds to improve and repair on-base housing, as private companies tasked with providing quality living conditions for military families continue to face scrutiny
Last year, the Department of the Air Force asked for $441 million to be allocated for family housing. That increased to $588 million in the 2023 budget request, a 33% spike.
The majority of that, around $230 million, would be contracted to private housing companies to "bring the units to contemporary standards," according to new documents released Friday.
Funds to improve the dwellings provided by privatized housing companies doubled in the latest budget request, with approximately $110 million requested in 2022. The Air Force currently has more than 50,000 homes at 63 military installations run by privatized housing companies.
"The Air Force remains committed to providing members and their families access to safe and adequate housing facilities and services," the department said in budget documents.
Privatized military housing would be improved at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Tyndall Air Force Base, in particular, has fallen on hard times since Hurricane Michael's Category 5 winds caused an estimated $4.7 billion in damage when it hit the installation in 2018.
Base housing was in unlivable condition, and many of the 11,000 airmen and families received permanent change of station (PCS) orders. Nearly 250 homes are no longer available for service members because of the storm.
Military housing has come under intense scrutiny since 2018, when Reuters revealed examples of lead-based paint, widespread mold and shoddy workmanship in base homes managed by private companies.
In 1996, the military shifted ownership of more than 200,000 family housing units on bases to private real estate developers and property managers under 50-year contracts. Now, 99% of domestic military housing is privatized.
Patricia Coury, deputy assistant secretary of defense for housing, testified earlier this month at a virtual meeting of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies hearing, promising more oversight of the private companies.
"Our priority going forward is to focus on implementing ... reforms intended to improve the safety, quality and habitability of privatized housing, while continuing our enhanced oversight of the (Military Housing Privatization Initiative) program and projects," Coury testified.
Some military families choose to live on base in private housing because it can be a more affordable option than finding a place to rent or buy in the adjacent communities near their duty station.
The 2023 budget proposal -- in response to a booming housing market and rising inflation caused by the pandemic -- offered a 4.3% increase in airmen's Basic Housing Allowance, a 3.4% jump in their Basic Allowance for Subsistence designed to offset the cost of groceries, and a 4.6% pay raise.
While there was no request for construction funds for brand-new housing at Air Force bases, the department's budget did ask for $68 million to build a new three-story dormitory to house 84 Guardians at Clear Space Force Station in Denali, Alaska -- which the department considered "one of the most strategically important installations in the United States," according to budget documents.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.