Commander: Housing issue may affect future mission decisions

Freedom New Mexico illustration: Gabriel Monte and Jenna Zamie The highlighted area indicates an area around Cannon Air Force Base with a roughly 60-minute drive time, where personnel can seek housing.

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

When Cannon Air Force Base reaches full capacity in about five months, communities outside Clovis and Portales may figure into the solution of finding affordable housing for personnel.

But if adequate housing can’t be found, Cannon Commander Col. Stephen Clark said Wednesday, the Air Force may look at sending personnel to other missions at other U.S. bases.

“If the local market does not react, which I’m actually hoping that it will and we’re seeing movement in that direction, then I think there is potential for the command in the Air Force to rethink some of the interests that are coming here,” Clark said. “It will impact, depending on the severity of it, any discussion about bringing additional missions here.

“If you can’t house it, you can’t bring them in,” Clark added. “And they’ll take those same units and put them somewhere where housing is not an issue.”

Clark’s remarks came in an exclusive interview with Freedom New Mexico on Wednesday at the base.

He said base housing is at 82 percent occupancy.

What happens if base housing fills to capacity and a dearth of affordable residences exist in Clovis and Portales?

“The housing allowance that the Department of Defense provides for its military people is based upon a 60-minute drive time and also on the rental market,” Clark said. “If you draw a 60-minute drive-time circle from here, that’s generally where our folks will wind up at.

“They’ll wind up in Fort Sumner, they’ll wind up toward Levelland — toward the direction of Lubbock and Amarillo,” he added.

Clark said he believes adequate housing exists for personnel within a 60-minute drive time — at least for now.

Clark has reiterated the possibility of a housing crunch for his personnel by March, when the base comes close to an expected working population of 5,300. The working population is about 4,100 now, officials have said.

While finding places to live in other cities within an hour’s drive is possible, even feasible by military guidelines, Clark doesn’t find that alternative necessarily appealing.

“What it means to our mission, though, is now my people are driving an hour to and from work,” Clark said. “They’re getting up earlier; they already have to be here for physical fitness training at 6 or 7 in the morning and now they’re having to get up and leave their home by 5.”

As he did in a late-September presentation to the Military Base Planning Commission, Clark said the current demographic for the base includes more with lower ranks since Cannon became a home for Special Operations. Clark also said those searching for places to live off-base are having difficulty finding acceptable homes in their price range.

The current housing allowance ranges from $870 to $1,388 a month for enlisted personnel with families. Officers — lieutenants and captains — with families get from $1,335 to $1,405 monthly.

For those looking to buy a home, Clark estimated houses he would consider affordable would fall in a range between $120,000 and $180,000.

In Muleshoe, Realtor George Nieman said homes generally are listed between $120,000 and $200,000 and he has had inquiries from Cannon personnel.

“I’m told (the price) is considerably less (than in Clovis and Portales),” said Nieman, who owns Nieman Realty in Muleshoe.“I had a couple over here that was selling a home and were planning on moving over to the Clovis/Portales area. They had looked and looked and weren’t able to find anything that was comparable to what they had here.”

Of 11 new homes permitted in Clovis for September, five were estimated to have a value of less than $180,000.