Cannon commander concerned about housing

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Local growth management officials told the Clovis City Commission they’d be hard-pressed to imagine eastern New Mexico’s future had Cannon Air Force Base shuttered.

With its transition to Special Operations Command under way, the base’s commander had concerns Thursday over the future availablility and price of housing to support Cannon’s future in Clovis and Portales.

Col. Stephen A. Clark, commander of the 27th Special Operations Command Wing, said the base is quickly reaching capacity on the housing it has for the base’s transition.

Cannon is expected to undergo major changes over the next two years, Clark said, with 10 projects worth $217.9 million scheduled next year alone.

Cannon is now at 98 percent capacity on dormitories.

And, base officials expect to fill the other 1,053 housing units — at 76 percent capacity now — by January 2010.

Clark said he’s hoping Clovis and Portales can help fill gaps, and meet housing needs of a projected base manpower of 4,900 — 75 percent of them ranked E-6 or below.

“We have a very young population, we have very young families,” Clark said. “A lot of family support will be required for that.”

A privatization project for housing is currently lagging behind the wing’s projected growth, Clark said, partially due to the base’s privatization being regrouped.

But since he expects two-thirds of Cannon personnel to live off-base, which is in line with current totals, Clark said Cannon would be well-served if Clovis and Portales could build at least 440 new homes over the next five years.

Clark said a study of local rentals and homes available for purchase revealed many homes were well above the Base Allowance Housing the Air Force issues as a part of personnel pay.

An average home would run $1,404 (three-bedroom) to $1,630 (four-bedroom) to rent with utilities and insurance, and $1,260 (three-bedroom) to $1,663 (four-bedroom) to purchase.

Clark said those totals would be just near the allowances for a first lieutenant or captain, but out of the range of most other base personnel.

Lonnie Leslie of the Local Growth Management Organization, which plans community growth to accommodate the base’s expansion, said it wasn’t much solace for an airman looking for a house in Clovis. But, he added, other military communities are being put under much more stress with population increases near 50,000 in a much quicker time frame than Cannon.

In addition, Clark said, the leases for 801 Housing in Clovis and Portales will be expiring in 2012 and 2013. But Clark said he wants to hold off making those decisions as long as possible.

Clark said he wanted to see if the public would respond before he made a decision on those leases, because leases require high occupancy rates for properties to be solely available to military families.

Failure to meet occupancy rates allows property owners to rent to non-military families, which Clark said could be a security issue.

Highlights

• Cannon expects to spend $217.9 million on 10 projects next year, and up to $256 million for additional projects by 2015.

• The base has a 98 percent capacity rate on its dormitories. Base Commander Col. Stephen Clark said some personnel may end up sharing dorm rooms. But the Air Force wants to maintain a “one man, one room” philosophy as much as possible.

• The base studied 60 rentals in Clovis, and found 21 of them below Air Force standards.

• Hoyt Skaabelund of Plains Regional Medical Center said the growth associated with Cannon could create enough of a community for seven new psychologists or psychiatrists. The area has no full-time, long-term employees in the psychiatry field now, Skaabelund said.