We must lower the high cost of housing for our men and women in the military

When one thinks of U.S. cities with important military infrastructures, Miami does not usually come to mind.

Unfortunately, many of our residents are not fully aware that Southern Command Headquarters, Special Operations Command South, Homestead Air Force Reserve Base, the U.S. Coast Guard (7th District Headquarters, Miami Beach Cutter Base and Opa-locka Air Station), various Armed Forces Reserve Units, Florida National Guard Units and the Miami VA Healthcare System exist within Miami-Dade County.

Combined they occupy a large physical footprint and make Greater Miami a hub of military activity that affects the southern gateway to the United States, the Caribbean, Central and South America. It would be a mistake to underestimate just how important these military components and installations are to our local economy. Collectively they represent a positive economic impact of more than $5 billion annually.

Now, however, we are in jeopardy of losing some of these valuable neighbors and contributors for a simple reason: the continued increase in housing costs is making South Florida unaffordable for military families assigned here. Former military officials testifying before Congress continue to push for the streamlining of military installations. If those recommendations are adopted, bases located in areas where housing is difficult (and expensive), including Miami, are prime candidates for cutbacks.

To compensate for higher housing costs, the military can, and has, increased the housing allowance for families. The military also provides a small cost-of-living allowance to each service member, designed to help offset the burden of particularly expensive locations. So it has done its part. Now, it is time for us to act to make housing more affordable for South Florida’s men and women in uniform.

The high cost of Miami rental housing is made worse by landlords who ask for three months’ rent up front. This large out-of-pocket expense is further aggravated by rigorous homeowners associations that require time-consuming background checks; despite the fact that military service members have already passed a thorough screening process and many hold security clearances. These background investigations (including of spouses) can take up to 45 days, causing newly arrived military families to pay for expensive hotel lodging, way beyond the 10 days that Uncle Sam reimburses them for.

A real-world example is a young 25-year-old sergeant with a spouse and two young children arriving in Miami after a recent combat deployment. Once here, the young sergeant is expected to start work immediately. Meantime, the spouse scrambles to enroll their children in school as quickly as possible. Once they find a place to live, they are asked to put down $4,500 for a small apartment or house renting for $1,500 a month. As they wait for their background checks to go through, they continue to pay almost $150 a day in temporary lodging and meals. Imagine the family’s shock at having to pay such a large amount of money, representing a big chunk of their yearly income, simply because they have been assigned to South Florida.

Given this reality, it is not hard to understand why South Florida is increasingly becoming an unattractive posting for military families. We need to change that. 

Miami-Dade County is greatly enhanced by the presence and activities of our men and women in uniform. Not only are they the guardians of our nation but they are active in our communities, and many businesses thrive because of them. They serve as role models, mentors and volunteers in churches, schools and youth groups. They are an integral part of our social fabric. We need to find ways to ensure that South Florida remains an attractive assignment for our service-members and for others looking to relocate here.

Raul Mas is a businessman and serves as the volunteer Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for Florida (South). Don Slesnick, the former mayor of Coral Gables, is an attorney and serves as the volunteer U.S. Army Reserve Ambassador Emeritus in Florida. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.