Some Coast Guard personnel can’t find housing in vacation-rich areas, GAO says
The watchdog said that despite some government housing and a private sector housing allowance, some Coast Guard personnel can’t find affordable lodging stationed in either remote areas or ones where rentals are positioned for vacation economies.
Some Coast Guard personnel are finding it more and more difficult to locate affordable housing, the Government Accountability Office said Monday, as they are stationed in areas tied to high vacation-based rents.
The GAO report — which examined Coast Guard’s housing program — found that 41% of the service’s units are in either remote areas with few options or where more than half of vacant housing units were categorized for seasonal, recreational or occasional use.
Coast Guard service members and their spouses told the watchdog that property owners in some regions don’t offer year-round leases for housing because they can command higher prices on a seasonal schedule.
In other locations, such as Kodiak, Alaska, high construction costs and high demand for rentals contribute to landlords not consistently maintaining their properties,” the report said.
GAO noted that the Coast Guard does own, manage and maintain more than 2,500 family housing units and 317 unaccompanied personnel housing facilities, but the bulk of its housing of its personnel comes from private sector sources, with 76 percent of active-duty personnel using those sources.
The Coast Guard does have a housing program to assist personnel by providing government-owned housing, leasing properties itself or compensating service members through a Basic Allowance for Housing that covers up to 95% of the monthly costs of rent and utilities for private sector housing.
It has also conducted 23 housing market surveys between 2018 and March 2023 to analyze “the availability of suitable, affordable housing within a reasonable commuting distance” for its personnel and to meet internal goals, such as 95 percent occupancy for all government-owned housing units.
“However, some service members and spouses told us that despite the efforts of headquarters and field units to collect some housing feedback, those efforts did not directly address key housing challenges, such as private sector housing availability and cost,” the report said.
The GAO found that it has not conducted a service-wide survey on its personnel housing experience feedback since 2012, and low rental vacancy rates and high cost-of-living areas relative to the BAH have been exacerbated lower housing availability in the wake of the pandemic.
The report said that service members and spouses’ interviews “cited tradeoffs with key quality-of-life issues, such as the cost and distance of commuting, school quality and limited access to health care services” and noted that the cost of housing and utilities are outpacing the BAH.
“According to the Coast Guard, the  survey’s feedback was an important element it used to gain a comprehensive view of housing at that time, as well as identify locations of possible housing surplus or need for further study,” the report said. “However, the Coast Guard’s subsequent efforts to collect housing feedback do not address potential changes to service member housing needs since that time, such as the impact of COVID-19.”
Coast Guard officials told the GAO that they didn’t plan another survey along the scope of the 2012 study “because the study’s primary focus was to create a ‘baseline’ of the condition of the entire housing inventory.”
But GAO said that the service can also use up to 10 Defense Department housing authorities that could help address some of the housing issues and help save funding, such as acquiring existing family housing in lieu of construction, leasing properties beyond the Coast Guard’s current authority of five-year leases, the ability to use 10-year utility service contracts and others.
GAO offered three recommendations, including establishing processes for routine service-wide housing feedback from personnel, collecting information on beneficial housing practices from Coast Guard field units and sharing it across the service and assessing whether the 10 DOD statutory housing authorities identified could be beneficially applied to the Coast Guard.
The Homeland Security Department, which oversees the Coast Guard, concurred with the recommendations and outline steps for addressing them.
NEXT STORY: Tips for recent retirees