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San Diego military personnel get increased housing allowance, but will it be enough?

Devon Hicks retired from the Navy after serving for over two decades. He works in San Diego, where his wife still serves in the military.

They used to live in Murrieta in Riverside County with their large family. His commute was more than an hour, so they looked into moving to San Diego to be closer to work.

"You typically can’t get a house six bedroom, five bedroom house out here under a million dollars probably. So you just can’t afford it," Hicks said. 


So they bought in Menifee, even further north.

Moving farther away is what many military families stationed in San Diego like Hicks' have to do to find affordable housing.

When it comes down to it, Hicks said, it’s the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH, that has the ultimate say. He said it doesn't even cover the mortgage in Riverside County.

"With the stipend that we’re getting — it’s helpful, but it still doesn’t cover what my mortgage is," he said. "That’s where you use your paycheck, or you get a side job or you do Uber or you do Lyft." 

The Department of Defense (DOD) identified 28 housing areas, including San Diego, where housing costs went up 20%. Now they’re giving military members in those areas an increase in the BAH. The increase starts this month and runs through the end of the year. Then a new rate takes effect on Jan. 1.


"It’s always been tough for veterans because in California ... everything is more expensive," said Michael Drew, a Navy veteran turned real estate agent. He specializes in helping military families find homes in the San Diego region.

He said the DOD does this analysis every year, but this year it came three months early. Drew believes that was a good decision.

"This was desperately needed," Drew said. "Just in the last year we looked at we looked at 15%, 20% increases in prices … gas, groceries have increased in prices and then you’re looking at housing prices."

Hicks celebrate son's graduation.
Mike Damron
Devon Hicks, far right, and his family celebrate a graduation in this undated photo. As a military family, they receive a Basic Allowance for Housing, but Hicks says it does not go very far in San Diego. They live in Menifee, in Riverside County, which is less expensive.

Drew said as housing prices skyrocketed, the Hicks family’s story of moving far from work became common among military families.

"The South Bay has been booming, Otay Mesa all around that area out there — that’s where we see a lot of military families opting to live because the prices aren't as bad as North County," he said. "If they really want bang for the buck they go up to Temecula, Riverside, because you can get a way bigger home."

Such a move has its drawbacks, Drew said, thanks to long commutes of as much as three hours. But he noted the military is offering some relief for long-haul commuters.

"They do have a rideshare program ... the military members don’t have to deal with so much wear and tear on their cars — especially with gas being outrageous right now, almost $7 a gallon," Drew said. 

Devon Hicks said his family is not without struggle, but he feels blessed.

"We have a family that’s pretty senior (in the military)," Hicks said. "We get a lot more pay. But I have a niece who is a very junior sailor who has a kid and has a studio apartment 'cause that’s all she can afford."

Still, he said he hurts for those just starting out in the military, knowing from experience what they’re about to go through, with some turning to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program and school lunch programs to get by.

"For those junior sailors or marines or service members who are here, it’s going to be a battle," Hicks said.

And that’s the picture Michael Drew wants to paint for officials who make policy decisions that affect military families every single day.

"We want our sailors and our service members to be able to focus on protecting our country," Drew said, "Not worrying about their families and housing — 'is my family going to be freaking homeless?' No. That distracts from our mission."