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Some housing allowances to fall at Drum

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WASHINGTON — Many soldiers who arrive at Fort Drum next year will see their government-paid housing allowances fall — with one notable exception.

Staff sergeants with dependents will receive bigger allowances, while more junior enlistees will have to make do with less, according to rates the Defense Department announced Thursday, to take effect Jan. 1.

Junior enlisted soldiers — privates and specialists — with dependents will receive a basic allowance for housing of $1,203 per month in the Watertown-Fort Drum area, down from $1,248 this year. Sergeants with dependents will see payments fall to $1,275, from $1,335, but staff sergeants with dependents — a big piece of the off-post housing market — will see their benefit go up from $1,464 to $1,512.

Rates will be more mixed for senior non-commissioned officers, falling slightly for some, rising or remaining steady for others.

Housing allowances are based on spring and summer rental surveys and are supposed to reflect market conditions as well as average local costs of utilities and rental insurance. Nationally, rates will rise 2 percent next year, the Pentagon announced. The rates apply to new arrivals, so that soldiers already renting won’t see their payments shrink.

Although the housing market remains tight around Fort Drum because of the post’s expansion, the drop in some housing rate allowances doesn’t appear substantial, said Carl McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization. More alarming, he said, might have been a sharp increase that would signal much higher rents in the area.

“It’s realistic. It reflects the market,” Mr. McLaughlin said of the rate. “It’s telling you that the rental market, even though it’s tight, is relatively stable.”

Rates also fell for several ranks of soldiers without dependents, but new enlistees who are single and new to the Army generally are housed in barracks on post.

Most of the allowance is based on rent, rather than utilities and insurance. The Defense Department reported that at Fort Drum, rent accounts for 72 percent of the housing allowance, while utilities account for 27 percent and insurance 1 percent.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the Pentagon regularly underestimates the amount of money it needs for housing allowances, due to inaccurate estimates of actual housing costs. The GAO report cited Fort Drum, among other installations, saying that officials there noted that short supplies of rental apartments made a fair snapshot of the rental market harder to obtain.

The basic allowance for housing has climbed dramatically at Fort Drum with the expansion of the post. In 2004, a staff sergeant with dependents received $975 a month.

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