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Military housing allowance rate and census income statistics tell two different stories about the north country housing market

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An announcement this week about military housing allowances increasing by as much as 15 percent in the Fort Drum area coincided with the release of a five-year U.S. Census Bureau survey, which included income statistics for the north country.

Read together, the sets of data reveal a complex and, at times, adverse relationship between the price of housing for soldiers and civilians.

The effect of the military’s basic allowance for housing, or BAH, on rental rates is difficult to track and can vary greatly according to the markets targeted by landlord and realtors.

But three agencies working with homeless populations and housing in Jefferson County have said they have noticed a strong correlation between rising BAH rates and a spike in residents seeking alternative housing.

Gary C. Beasley, the executive director of Neighbors of Watertown, an organization that provides affordable housing to area residents and advises first-time home buyers, said that in general, rents rise with military housing allowance increases.

“Rents usually rise with BAH increases, which affects those that do not have that financial assistance,” Mr. Beasley said in an email.

As part of its home buyer education program, Neighbors advises individuals and families that they should not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s survey, the median income of the 45,162 households in Jefferson County is $46,549.

That means that half of the households in the county — 22,581 — make less than that figure. Of that lower half, 16,619 households bring in less than $35,000 a year.

Under the new BAH rates, a service member with the rank of E-1 through E-4 would receive $1,428 with dependents and $1,071 without.

According to the 30 percent guideline, those households making less than $35,000 a year, which compose 36 percent of all households in Jefferson County, can afford to pay no more than $875 per month in rent or mortgage — an amount well below the monthly allowance received by even the most junior enlisted soldier.

On a waiting list 100 applicants long, there are 30 individual applicants and 12 families who have cited lack of affordable accommodations as the reason they are seeking alternative housing, according to Summer A. Lane, a staff member at Neighbors of Watertown.

Properties owned by Neighbors of Watertown are 100 percent full at this time, Ms. Lane said.

Many applicants have already been on the waiting list for at least three months and are staying at their current residence, at a hotel paid for by the Department of Social Services or with family members.

The yearly income of applicants on the waiting list ranges from $9,000 on the low end to $16,000 on the high end, according to Ms. Lane.

In an odd twist, increases in BAH can drive disabled veterans onto the street.

Tamara J. Goodacre, who serves as the team leader for the Department of Veterans Affairs homeless program in Central New York, said that increases in BAH put pressure on rental rates.

“I think it’s too early to tell what the impact is going to be,” Ms. Goodacre said. “But when housing allowances go up, it certainly puts undue pressure on lower-income households.”

Ms. Goodacre also said rents are unusually high in Jefferson County.

“They tend to be higher than perhaps what the market value would be,” she said.

It’s hard to determine how many homeless veterans are in the area, because there are no shelters in Jefferson County, Ms. Goodacre said.

Veterans who lose their homes tend to stay with friends or family, she said.

Teresa W. Gaffney, commissioner of the Jefferson County Department of Social Services, said a housing officer with the department associated a sharp increase in rental fees in the area around 2006 and 2007 with an increase in BAH rates.

“We have not seen sharp increases in rent since that time, and the number of individuals and families presenting to our agency as homeless has actually decreased,” Mrs. Gaffney said in an email.

BY THE NUMBERS
The following is a breakdown of Jefferson County households according to income level, in 2012 inflation-adjusted dollars, according to information gathered during the five-year American Community Survey.
Total households: 45,162
Income levelHouseholds Percent
Less than $10,0003,218 7.1
$10,000 to $14,999 2,684 5.9
$15,000 to $24,999 5,267 11.7
$25,000 to $34,999 5,450 12.1
$35,000 to $49,999 7,591 16.8
$50,000 to $74,999 9,277 20.5
$75,000 to $99,999 5,492 12.2
$100,000 to $149,999 4,377 9.7
$150,000 to $199,999 1,152 2.6
$200,000 or more 654 1.4
Median household income $46,549
Mean household income $57,573
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