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Officials set military housing allowance rates for 2009

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Housing allowances for military members will go up an average of 6.9 percent in 2009, Defense Department officials announced Dec. 15.

The increase comes to an average of about $95 per month across the board for the 950,000 servicemembers expected to draw basic allowance for housing, or BAH, in 2009, but some servicemembers will not see any increase at all, and others will see less than that the average increase, said Susan A. Brumbaugh, director of the Defense Department's BAH program.

"We did see some decreases in some areas for some pay grades," she said, "[but] it's not across the broad spectrum. We also saw some significant increases across the board, so it's a balance.

"In some years, you'll have a rental market that is very strong in some areas," she explained, "and in others areas, you'll have local rental markets where there's not a lot of housing available. So it changes. It can fluctuate from year to year. Every year you'll see some [areas] that go down and some that go up, and this was a very typical year."

Those who do notice their area's BAH is lower than last year's shouldn't worry, Ms. Brumbaugh said, because an individual rate protection law is in place to protect those who already are under a rental agreement. So, if BAH rates in their area are lower Jan. 1 than Dec. 31, the previous, higher rate applies. Servicemembers who change duty stations after Jan. 1 will be affected by the new, lower rates for that area, she explained.

"If [the military member's] status didn't change, his rate will not go down," she said. "Individual rate protection is in place. It's in the law, and it's not going to change."

The local market economy serves as the basis for BAH rate changes. Military housing officials from each installation begin collecting data from the local rental market as early as January each year. They research the current rates for two-bedroom houses, townhouses, single-family homes and all the different standards and profiles for homes, Ms. Brumbaugh explained.

Typically, rates are higher in larger, more heavily populated metropolitan areas, such as New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Rates in rural areas usually are more stable, and although they may increase to some degree, the rise doesn't have the same impact as in larger cities, she said.

"The military housing offices are looking at adequate and appropriate dwellings we would want our military families living in," she said. "They don't look at a small, two-bedroom house and say, 'We could put an E-5 with a family in that.' They look at it as something that would be appropriate for that particular profile."

The BAH program is designed to benefit servicemembers, but it's not designed to pay 100 percent of their housing expenses, Ms. Brumbaugh said. Although she's never met a servicemember who is pleased with his or her BAH rates, she said, the program is very well designed, and once servicemembers understand the process for which the rates are set, they're fairly satisfied.

"The entitlement is a wonderful entitlement," she said. "[The Defense Department] absolutely bends over backward to make sure that if there is any change at all, it's for the benefit of the member."