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Rising housing costs squeeze airmen, retirees at Dover Air Force Base

Delaware Public Media

As the cost of housing in Delaware rises, active-duty personnel at Dover Air Force base are having a harder time finding places to live.

To make room, some retired airmen and civilians now have to leave base housing and face an increasingly daunting rental or real estate market.

Pressure on the base's limited housing stock began to rise ahead of so-called "PCS season" — an acronym for Permanent Change of Station — when many military service members move from one base to another, be it across the country or across the globe.

That means increased demand for base housing, especially as the cost of housing off-base rises. Roughly a decade ago, Dover Air Force Base’s housing had enough vacancies to accommodate retired airmen and some civilian Department of Defense staff. Now, with more airmen in need of the base’s low-cost homes, some of those non-active-duty residents say they’ve been told to find new places to live.

DJ Westfall, a retired airman who has lived on the base for a year, says he received a letter this spring from the base’s private housing provider - Hunt Military Communities - informing him his lease would not be renewed and he had 60 days to relocate, citing the need to house active-duty airmen.

“It would have been nice, you know, to receive something in January saying, 'hey, please understand that we are not going to be allowing civilians and retirees any longer on the base due to [there being] not enough housing for active-duty personnel,'" he said.

According to Westfall, his lease agreement specified that base housing would be prioritized for active-duty personnel — an arrangement he says is justified, though it also poses challenges for those who have to move.

"I mean, totally get it to active duty, and they deserve it," he said. "They deserve not have to worry about it. But when you hear the other stories of, hey, we just sold our house for active duty, we sold our house, you know, for $30,000 over and we're moving on base, you're like, well, jeez, that's good for you, you had a house, and now we're moving off base and we can't even find a place.”

He and his family have now found housing.

Meanwhile, some active-duty airmen say that even they have experienced some of the consequences of Delaware's affordable housing shortage.

"We had to find temporary housing for a couple of married airmen as they arrived," said one airman who asked not to be named. "The rental market is ridiculous, so we had them doubled up in other peoples' houses for a couple months until there were some openings in military housing."

Hunt Military Communities declined to give comment or provide data for this story.