Housing crisis affects Soldiers
The housing crisis is affecting millions of Americans, including Soldiers. The G-1 is revising BAH waiver criteria to include families who need to remain at prior duty stations until they can sell or rent their homes.

CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium Aca,!" The U.S. housing market has hit a steep decline, and itAca,!a,,cs hurting servicemembers like 'Joe.'

Joe is a U.S. Soldier stationed in Belgium. He prefers to remain anonymous, but agreed to share his story, in hopes it would help others who are in similar situations.

JoeAca,!a,,cs life was pretty planned out. He started a family, fulfilled his military commitment and decided to buy a home in Florida and settle down. But as life happens, plans change. Joe chose to stick with the Army and make a career of it, and he re-enlisted and received orders overseas. He rented his home to family members, packed up his wife and kids and moved to Belgium in February 2007.

Aca,!A"The first year was all right,Aca,!A? he said, Aca,!A"but then the economy was going down.Aca,!A? Although the family who was renting the house didnAca,!a,,ct lose their jobs, Joe said their hours were cut back and they couldnAca,!a,,ct afford to pay the rent any longer.

Aca,!A"I couldnAca,!a,,ct put the house up for sale because it lost almost half the value,Aca,!A? he said. Joe paid $207,000 for the home and signed an interest only mortgage with a rate that was locked in for 10 years. Because itAca,!a,,cs an interest only loan, he hasnAca,!a,,ct paid any principle on the house, so he still owes the full amount.

Aca,!A"I was going to try to rent it,Aca,!A? he said, but in his neighborhood there were already eight houses for sale and four for rent. Aca,!A"I knew I would have to rent it for a really low price.Aca,!A?

His mortgage is $1,300 per month, and at that time, houses were renting for as low as $600. He never got his home officially appraised, but he said similar homes in his neighborhood were selling between $110,000 and $140,000.

Aca,!A"ThatAca,!a,,cs when I started to go to ACS,Aca,!A? he said.

Army Community Service offers numerous programs to help Soldiers in financial hardships. Comel Rooms is the Financial Readiness Program Manager for U.S. Army Garrison Benelux. She said, to date, three Soldiers have come to her office for assistance with their mortgages.

Aca,!A"Soldiers who are having trouble with the housing crisis can use the Homeowners Assistance Program, or if their families stay back in the States, there is a BAH waiver, so they can continue to pay for that property until itAca,!a,,cs rented or sold,Aca,!A? said Rooms.

Aca,!A"AER provides interest-free loans and grants to help servicemembers with rent and mortgage,Aca,!A? she added.

Joe said was introduced to these options when he met with ACS, and they prioritized the different programs and the pros and cons that came with each.

Aca,!A"I was still making payments with money in savings from my deployment,Aca,!A? he said. But because of the homeAca,!a,,cs value he couldnAca,!a,,ct refinance it.

He even reached a point where he thought he would have to let the bank foreclose on the house or file bankruptcy. Aca,!A"I was so stressed out. IAca,!a,,cm going through a lot to keep my credit good,Aca,!A? he said, adding that ACS didnAca,!a,,ct want him to have to take that route, if there were other options.

ACS walked him through the programs they had to offer, but unfortunately, Joe didnAca,!a,,ct qualify for any of them, but he said they didnAca,!a,,ct give up. The final option was an Early Return of Dependents or ERD as itAca,!a,,cs commonly referred to.

Aca,!A"They made an exception to the policy,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"In the month of June, I sent my wife back to the states, and I have the BAH for the states in order to pay for the house.Aca,!A?

He was scheduled to leave Belgium in February 2010, but now, heAca,!a,,cs going to be here a few months longer, which he admitted was hard on the family.

Aca,!A"I kind of regret it because itAca,!a,,cs going to be a year that weAca,!a,,cre apart, but I think this was the only option we had,Aca,!A? he said. With nine years in, Joe plans to make a career of the Army. Aca,!A"I solved the problem temporarily.Aca,!A?

Joe recommends seeking help. Aca,!A"I would start with the chain of command, but ACS is a good source to go to.Aca,!A?

Rooms said ACS isnAca,!a,,ct just there to help with housing needs. Aca,!A"If the need exists and theyAca,!a,,cre having problems making ends meet, then we can figure out a way. We can help pay their rent here, or help them out with groceries and utilities Aca,!" whatever we can do so they can get through the immediate crisis. We also do budget counseling so they cannot get in this situation again.Aca,!A?

At the local level, emergency loans can be approved for up to $2,500. Aca,!A"Oftentimes we can cut the check the same day. ItAca,!a,,cs a quick and fairly easy process.Aca,!A?

The Army has many other tools to help Soldiers through the housing crisis. Army OneSource has launched a Web page filled with links and information on new programs, including the $555 million dollar expansion to the Home-owners Assistance Program that can partially reimburse home sale losses due to permanent changes of station.

Because the programs are fairly new, HAP is still updating its Web site, but Rooms recommended reading through the information that is posted online and then contacting ACS at DSN 423-5324 or CIV 065-44-5324 to get more information or to schedule an appointment.

Aca,!A"WeAca,!a,,cre happy to work one-on-one with them and look at their specific situation,Aca,!A? she said.

Page last updated Mon August 24th, 2009 at 04:04