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Military families contend with high inflation and housing costs

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Many Americans are dealing with high inflation and expensive housing costs, including service members and their families. For those who've had to move to new posts recently, it's been especially tough. St. Louis Public Radio's Eric Schmid has the story.

ERIC SCHMID, BYLINE: Lisa Koroma is no stranger to moving with her husband, who's in the Army. Their family has relocated four other times, but their most recent move in 2021 was too much.

LISA KOROMA: This was the worst move I've ever experienced.

SCHMID: Koroma's husband received orders last fall that his station was changing from Camp Humphreys in South Korea to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.

KOROMA: I was just like, is it because we were coming from overseas? No, no, that's not it. It was just because the conditions in America. I feel like what we were walking into, we just were ill-prepared for.

SCHMID: Koroma says housing on post at Fort Carson was full, and they had to stay at a hotel while they searched for a permanent place to live. She says it took about a month to find suitable housing.

KOROMA: We were in a rush at this point because we're racking up hotel bills and breakfast, lunch and dinner because you're in a hotel for a family of five. So we're like, whatever it is, we'll take it.

SCHMID: But they made compromises. Koroma says the rental property where she's now living costs more than the allowance her husband receives from the Army each month for housing. All in all, she estimates her family spent about $10,000 out of pocket on the move.

KOROMA: Had I known that, we would have prepared better. We're using credit cards, which we still haven't caught up on those bills. So we're chipping at that.

SCHMID: Koroma's experience moving in the past year is hardly unique. A September survey from Blue Star Families found military families are spending more time and more money to find a place to live when they change duty stations. Kimberly Gold is one of the study's authors. She says moving for a reassignment is already a challenge that military families embrace.

KIMBERLY GOLD: But to now hear that military families are using the words dismal and nightmare as a recurring theme, it bothers me. It bothers me so much.

SCHMID: About half of the 2,200 families surveyed reported spending more than 20 days in temporary housing. The Defense Department only covers 14 of those days. Once they find a place to live, families reported spending an average $336 per month more than the military housing allowance on just rent or a mortgage, not including utilities.

CEASARAE GALVAN: When you're spending more money on one thing, you have less money for anything else.

SCHMID: Ceasarae Galvan directs Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Armed Forces Housing Advocates. She says challenges with housing costs can cascade and hit other parts of a military family's budget, like food.

GALVAN: Which doesn't just affect the families, but then it turns around and affects the military. Because if you are worried about whether or not your kids got to eat this morning, you're not focusing on your job.

SCHMID: The Defense Department did issue a temporary increase to the military's basic allowance for housing this September in some markets where rents have ballooned, but those only apply in 28 places across the country. Colorado Springs, where Lisa Koroma's family lives, isn't one of them. She says the strain from this move has her asking her husband if he can retire from the Army sometime soon.

KOROMA: I never want to do this again. I'm tapping on his back every day. When? When are you getting out? I hate it.

SCHMID: Koroma says she and her husband deeply appreciate what the military has afforded their family, and they don't necessarily want him to leave. But she says they need more support from the Army for it to make sense.

For NPR News, I'm Eric Schmid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East area in Illinois for St. Louis Public Radio. He joins the news team as its first Report for America corps member and is tasked with expanding KWMU's coverage east from the Mississippi. Before joining St. Louis Public Radio, Eric held competitive internships at Fox News Channel, NPR-affiliate WSHU Public Radio and AccuWeather. As a news fellow at WSHU's Long Island Bureau, he covered governments and environmental issues as well as other general assignments. Eric grew up in Northern Colorado but attended Stony Brook University, in New York where he earned his degree in journalism in 2018. He is an expert skier, avid reader and lifelong musician-he plays saxophone and clarinet.