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Basic Allowance for Housing, paid to 950,000 servicemembers living off base in the United States, will rise in January by an average of 5.9 percent, or $53 a month, say Defense Department pay officials.

Revised BAH rates have no direct impact on servicemembers living off base overseas. They get an Overseas Housing Allowance, which is adjusted in the spring and fall each year to reflect changes in out-of-pocket costs for stateside peers and changes in the dollar’s value relative to local currency.

For 2006, as in years past, changes to individual BAH rates will vary by rank, marital status and assignment area, with allowances rising sharply for persons assigned to high-cost areas such as Honolulu and Washington.

But for the first time in five years, servicemembers newly assigned to some housing areas will draw less in BAH than members of equal rank and marital status already assigned there. This will result from a scheduled end to “geographic rate protection” under the BAH program.

BAH rates are adjusted each year based on changes in rental cost data for different types of housing across 370 military housing areas. The data are gathered by base housing offices from local Realtors, renters and classified advertising. A defense contractor, Runzheimer International, conducts surveys to verify the rental data collected.

Since 2000, when the Defense Department and Congress adopted a five-year plan to close a 19 percent gap between BAH rates and local rental costs nationwide, servicemembers living off base have enjoyed two types of BAH rate protection: individual and geographic.

Individual rate protection, which remains in effect, guarantees that BAH will not fall for servicemembers while they are assigned to an area, even if local rental cost drop. This protects members facing monthly mortgage payments or long-term leases from an allowance squeeze.

Geographic rate protection, on the other hand, was intended to be temporary. It ensured members newly arrived in an area that they would receive no less in BAH than members of the same rank and family status already there. It was a tool to stabilize BAH rates until the gap between allowances and average local rental costs was closed, which has occurred.

With this protection ending Jan. 1, BAH for new arrivals will fall in areas where rental costs have slipped over the last year or more. In many of the affected areas, only rents for certain types of housing have fallen so only certain pay grades will be affected.

For example, officers with dependents in the rank of captain (O-3) or above who move to Fort Bragg or Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina in 2006 will draw less BAH than counterparts already assigned there. A major (O-4) with dependents at Bragg or Pope now draws BAH of $1,248 a month. That amount won’t change Jan. 1 but any O-4 “with dependents” who is assigned there in 2006 who draw $25 a month less in BAH.

Enlisted members in grades E-6 or E-7 moving to San Diego likewise will draw less in BAH than peers already there. An E-6 with dependents now receives BAH of $2,001 a month. The rate for new arrivals in the same pay grade will be $1,900.

Tim Fowlkes, director of BAH for the Defense Department, said almost 40,000 more servicemembers will qualify for BAH in 2006. Some of that growth is tied to ongoing service programs to “privatization” military housing by having contractors build units the military needs and, in return, receiving guaranteed occupancy rates and monthly rent set at the BAH rate.

The chart here shows a sampling of 2006 rates from across the United States. Rates for all areas can be found here.

To comment, write Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120-1111, e-mail milupdate@aol.com or visit www.militaryupdate.com.

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