High Local Housing Costs May Harm Bases

Local boosters are worried a lack of affordable housing could threaten two Bay County military bases during the 2005 round of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.

A report by the Bay Area Partnership for Affordable Housing showed the county, home of Tyndall Air Force Base and the Panama City Naval Support Activity, ranks last in the Florida Panhandle for affordable housing based on median income.

"One of the things that the military has always focused on in the BRAC is quality of life, and affordable housing is part of that," said Tom Neubauer, a real estate broker and a member of the Bay Defense Alliance, which was formed to protect local bases.

A high-end development boom, particularly in beach areas, is driving up housing costs and making it difficult for middle and low-income residents, including military personnel, to afford a home.

A recent survey by real estate agents found only nine houses under $100,000 listed in Panama City and only 13 under $200,000 at Panama City Beach. In the first 10 months of 2004, the average selling price in the county was $236,502.

Ron Thomasson, interim board chairman for the housing partnership, called the military housing situation "heartbreaking."

"We're asking these people to defend our country," he said. "The least we can do is make sure they have a safe place to live."

Randy Butler, a real estate agent and partnership member, said one Air Force family ended up buying a home out of their price range after a five-month search. Another Air Force client gave up after several months and moved into an apartment, he said.

Butler also said the lack of affordable homes to purchase is allowing landlords to charge exorbitant rents for substandard housing.

"There were in fact people living in inadequate housing out of town because of the affordability or lack of availability," said Cmdr. Bob Findley, the Navy base's commanding officer.

Navy officials conducted an analysis that showed housing allowances were too low and they are hoping to get a 20 percent increase next year.

A Tyndall spokesman declined comment pending finalization of 2005 housing allowance changes.

Information from: The News Herald