Commander focuses on housing issues at meeting

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Housing continues to be a big concern for Cannon Air Force Base as personnel relocate to the region and staffing numbers rise.

With more than 1,000 personnel still headed to Cannon, base housing is at 82 percent occupancy and local housing options are slim, commander Col. Stephen Clark told members of the Military Base Planning Commission Wednesday at Clovis Community College.

The commission, which seeks to support the state’s four military bases, is comprised of 15 community leaders from across the state and chaired by Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

Meetings are held alternately in military communities across New Mexico.

Clark gave a broad presentation covering topics ranging from the nature of Cannon’s mission, money being spent to switch the mission from a fighter wing and logistic issues at the base.

Housing accounted for a majority of his presentation.

By March 2010, Clark said he expects all of his available housing units — a little more than 1,100 — will be filled as base personnel numbers near 6,000.

“I’m just about out right now,” he said.

“I’m already out of dorm space, my airmen are doubling up (in the dorms).”

The availability of housing in the community is also a problem, he said.

Clark said rentals are sparse, expensive and in undesirable areas. He also said properties for sale, particularly new homes, are outside the majority of his airmen’s price range.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield told the commission the city is working diligently to support Cannon and its new mission.

“We are working with the colonel and some of his staff on housing issues,” she said.

Clark said personnel associated with the Air Force Special Operations mission at Cannon are different from those the community grew accustomed to in the past.

They are predominantly lower ranking — 75 percent of officers hold the rank of captain and below and 75 percent of enlisted are technical sergeants and below — and tend to have young families.

The average three-bedroom rental is $1,400, which exceeds the housing allowance most airman and entry-level officers receive, Clark said.

Allowances for enlisted personnel with families range from $870 to $1,388 and officers with families from $1,335 to $1,405 per month, which is expected to cover housing and utility costs.

“There are rentals available, but they aren’t where you or I would want to put our families,” Clark said.

“(And) I’m not restricting my airmen from living there but I’m certainly not encouraging it.”

And while there are an average of 25 new housing construction permits issued each month in Clovis, of those there are typically, “two my airmen can afford,” Clark said.

“We’re having trouble finding homes.”

Older homes on base have been or are being torn down and will be rebuilt, he said.

Housing privatization — where a private contractor manages military housing units for personnel — has been delayed, Clark said in response to an inquiry from Commission Member Terry Moberly. Clark said it probably won’t be in place and functioning for at least one to two more years.

Members also heard from the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority about several energy projects taking place across the state and efforts being made to coordinate with military bases, communities and business.

Retired Gen. Hanson Scott told commission members the Department of Defense has been sluggish in coordinating and working with energy projects.