Moving to Yakima Valley Can Cause Setbacks for Soldiers

Soldiers operate a retransmission point from a Humvee at the Yakima Training Center, Wash., during the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade's aerial gunnery, Oct. 24, 2012. (U.S. Army photo)
Soldiers operate a retransmission point from a Humvee at the Yakima Training Center, Wash., during the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade's aerial gunnery, Oct. 24, 2012. (U.S. Army photo)

SELAH -- When Alesha Adams' husband, an Army sergeant, got his orders to transfer from Fort Polk, La., to the Yakima Training Center in February, they decided to wait until they got here to look for housing.

"We weren't willing to rent sight unseen," Adams recalled.

But that meant she, her husband and their dog had to live in a North First Street motel in Yakima for almost two weeks before they could find a place that took pets, met military housing standards and was within the almost $1,100 monthly housing allowance. Before finding a home in Terrace Heights, Adams said they rejected places in bad neighborhoods or that cost more than was covered by military housing payments.

Officials at the base east of Selah say the Adams' plight is common to military families relocating to the installation. They're hoping to get property managers and landlords to list their properties with the base to make house hunting easier and safer for military families.

And city officials and a developer in Selah said they're willing to do what they can to assist military families as well.

"We're excited for the opportunity to help," said Carl Torkelson, of Torkelson Construction.

The training center, a satellite installation of Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Tacoma, has a full-time staff of about 100 soldiers. The base provides training in urban combat and live-fire artillery practice, as well as serving as home to bomb-disposal and air-medical units.

But the base is considered a remote assignment, meaning there's no permanent on-base housing for staff and their families.

Instead, soldiers are given a monthly housing allowance specific to the area and the soldier's rank and family situation. A private first-class without any dependants receives $732 a month in housing allowance, while a sergeant with a family gets $1,077 a month.

But finding housing that meets the military's standards can be difficult, especially when military families are competing with people who have become renters as a result of the mortgage crisis several years ago, officials said.

As a result, military families have to sometimes pay more or settle for cramped quarters or bad neighborhoods.

One sergeant at the post found a place to live on Craigslist and was robbed her first week there, and witnessed a drug raid in the neighborhood the second week, Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan White said.

It's more than just an inconvenience for the soldier and his or her family, White said.

"Any housing difficulty results in a readiness issue," White said. All service members at the training center are eligible to be deployed, and a soldier who is worried about whether his or her family is going to be able to make the rent payment or might be exposed to gang activity is not going to be focused on the military mission.

The military is inviting property managers and landlords to list rental properties with the Armed Forces Community Service, which offers programs for military families.

Such a list, White said, would help military families find housing that meets their needs, while the landlords would get good tenants and a guaranteed income, as the housing allowance is separate from the soldier's pay.

Torkelson, who has rented homes to military families in the past, said he is planning to meet with the base staff to see how he can help with the housing issue, and discuss what the Army considers affordable for its soldiers.

Selah City Administrator Don Wayman said the city also is looking at helping connect military families with property managers.

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