[Bella’s intro: I’ve been studying housing discrimination against single people for a long time. My colleagues and I found that rental agents are biased against renting to people who are not married. We also discovered that people who practice this form of singlism are not even aware of their biases. When I was doing the research for Singled Out, I learned that there are also forms of housing discrimination in the military. Turns out, I did not know the half of it. Fortunately, Air Force veteran Dale Nyhus knows a whole lot about this, starting with a derogatory term and continuing through restricted housing options and substantial financial disadvantages. I am grateful to him for sharing some of his findings here in this guest post. You can find a more detailed version here and at his website.]
“Dorm Rat”: The Military’s Bias against Singles with No Kids
Guest Post by Dale Nyhus
Every member of the military swears an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States”. One of the most fundamental principles established in the Constitution is the concept that the military is required to obey civilian leadership. On September 13th, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Fair Housing Amendments Act into law. The Amendments Act changed the original Fair Housing Act to include “familial status”, a term that applies to a person who has legal custody of a child under 18. As a result, Section 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act now includes the following, “It shall be unlawful to make any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on familial status.” This is also the paragraph that makes it illegal to discriminate or give preference based on race, religion, and sex. That should indicate just how fundamentally wrong it is to discriminate or give preference based on familial status. It is just as illegal as discrimination based on race. It is just as wrong as preference based on religion. But in the thirty years since the amendment, the Department of Defense (DoD) has continued to both discriminate and give preference based on familial status.
To illustrate how the DoD gives preference based on familial status, let’s say two people join the Air Force on the same day; they go to basic training and technical school together; and they get assigned to the same base. Airman Smith is a single parent. Airman Jones is single and does not have familial status.
In accordance with Air Force Instruction (AFI) 32-6007, Privatized Housing Management, Airman Smith meets the definition of a “target tenant” (paragraph 4.1) and will receive “first priority” for privatized housing (paragraph 4.6). Airman Smith will receive allowances for housing and food. He will have the option to live off base (paragraph 4.3.2) and start building home equity. Years later, when Airman Smith sells his house to move to another base, that home equity will turn back into cash that will help him buy his next house.
By contrast, in accordance with AFI 32-6005, Unaccompanied Housing Management, Airman Jones is required to live in the dorms for the first three years of his career (paragraph 188.8.131.52), is not authorized to receive a housing allowance (paragraph 2.4.2), and will only receive an allowance for food if his work schedule regularly prevents him from eating at the chow hall three times a day, seven days a week, for years on end. Being forced to live in the dorms prevents Airman Jones from building home equity, even if he outperforms Airman Smith in every possible metric. Even if Airman Jones shows up to work early every day, gets recognized as an outstanding performer, wins quarterly and annual awards, earns his Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, saves a child from a burning building, and gets wounded in combat against an armed enemy of these United States of ’Merica! No matter what Airman Jones does, he will stay in the dorms until he has served out his time as a dorm rat (a very common term used when referencing dorm residents). The only way to get an early release from the dorms is to earn an early promotion to the rank of Senior Airman, and even that’s not a guarantee. Meanwhile, the most mediocre, underperforming member with dependents will get a house, garage, yard, multiple closets, possibly a storage shed (or at least the option to buy one), and most important, a reasonable degree of privacy.
Once Airmen Jones is able to move out of the dorms, he will start receiving a housing allowance, but it will be less than Airman Smith’s by $360 per month (based on a 20-year average). But that is not the only financial entitlement that is skewed in favor of members with dependents. As previously mentioned, Airmen in the dorms typically do not receive an allowance for food. At installations in high-cost areas, Airman Smith will receive a substantially larger cost of living allowance. During deployments, Airman Smith will receive $250 per month to cover “added expenses”, even if those added expenses are not actually incurred. But if Airman Jones incurs added expenses due to deployment, there is no equivalent program for him to seek relief. Over a 20-year career, the cumulative difference between these various entitlements is over $111,000. When adjusted for inflation, that figure grows to over $142,000, which averages out to over $7,000 per year.
[For more about what Dale Nyhus tried to do about this, continue reading his story here.]
Dale Nyhus is a 24-year veteran with service in both the Army and the Air Force. He served his first enlistment as an Airborne Infantryman, and his second as a mechanic on the Apache helicopter. He then separated from the Army to join the Air Force and served 17 years as an aircrew member on the C-130 cargo aircraft. He has deployed seven times (once to Bosnia and six times to the Middle East), and while serving in Japan, he repatriated the remains of a World War II B-24 bomber crew and flew missions during the immediate aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In his current role as a Contingency Response Team Chief, he led teams supporting relief operations for Hurricanes Irma and Maria, resulting in 70 tons of aid delivered to Americans impacted by the worst hurricane season on record. His website is FamilialStatus.org.