Commentary: Community input on Cannon housing important

USAF file photo: Airman 1st Class Evelyn Chavez The base has refined its housing procedures to reduce the stress of moves. By 2013 the base population will increase to about 5,000 airmen and civilians.

By Col. Timothy Leahy: 27th SOW commander

Between now and 2013 we expect our base population to increase from the current 2,600 total airmen and civilians to about 5,000. By this time next year, we anticipate about 1,000 more personnel to join us as we continue to build up the Western Home of America’s Air Commandos.

These tough economic times certainly do not make the already stressful task of moving from one base to another any easier. I have talked with many families who have recently moved here, and through them have heard their concerns and the concerns of others about housing. I have also listened to the hardships they faced in both selling their houses at other bases and in trying to find affordable, quality housing here.

These concerns and difficult experiences with the housing market have not gone unnoticed and without action by the 27th SOW. Cannon has not only refined its housing procedures in reaction to our incoming personnel’s needs, but we also reached out to other agencies to reevaluate and rectify situations beyond our base’s control, like Basic Allowance for Housing rates.

The changes our housing office has made to its housing procedures are many and directly benefit those moving here. First, the office has removed the mandatory 12-month residency policy in order to allow you to move into —then out of —base family housing inside the previous 12-month occupancy requirement. This allows you more time to sell your home at your previous duty station, then look around and purchase a home in the community when you are ready.

Second, we found that although those who need one-to-two bedroom rentals have no problem finding homes in Clovis, there is a shortage of three-to-four bedroom rentals. It has also been difficult for people to find homes that allow pets. Fortunately, the local market is growing in terms of housing availability and should make changes to adjust to the increasing demand. However, any families coming to Cannon that can’t find suitable accommodations downtown or have pets are currently able to reside in base housing.

As always, our housing staff at Cannon will be able to assist you in finding homes in the local market or in family housing. Currently we have excess capacity in base housing and are able to assign houses upon arrival. In fact, the available base housing is only 61 percent occupied. If you are interested in government family housing, please send an advance application to Cannon’s housing office. For more information, you can call them at (575) 784-2983.

If you are looking for suitable housing in the local area, the Automated Housing Referral Network Program helps military members view rental property before their arrival at Cannon. This program was created to specifically assist the military in finding homes through property managers/landlords and homes for sale by owner. Our housing office does 100 percent inspections on all rentals that are inputted into AHRN, and if a property does not meet our high standards, it is removed from the list and military members will not be able to view it, or it will be in the “pending status” until our housing representatives have an opportunity to inspect it.

There is a misconception that we are demolishing good government houses which have been recently renovated. The houses currently being demolished were built in 1966 and have only had minor upgrades with no major renovations. There are continuous maintenance problems in these units and the cost to bring them up to current Air Force standards would exceed the cost of building new units.

To replace the demolished units, we are in the beginning stages of housing privatization. If all goes as planned, we should close the deal in April 2010. At that time all existing housing will then either be demolished or renovated to meet standards. We expect more than 400 new units to be built, most with three to four bedrooms. This will provide us with a total of more than 1,000 modern, quality houses on base.

Many airmen have told me that they cannot find adequate housing with the BAH allowances they currently receive. In response to this concern, we have taken great strides to ensure the BAH rates adequately reflect the rental costs in the local market. By January 2009, we expect increases in BAH allowances so our airmen and their families can afford to live in the safe, quality houses they deserve off base.

Finally, I understand that the many positive changes we have made in our housing situation here do not necessarily mean that you are not facing challenges leaving your houses at your previous base. I urge you to contact your previous base’s housing office to see what advice and/or assistance they can provide.

You deserve a safe, affordable and quality place to live. We at the 27th SOW consider it a top priority to take care of our airmen and their families to ensure mission success. Continue to voice your concerns and housing experiences to you commanders and housing offices. We’ll do our part to make your transition to Cannon as smooth and pain free as possible.