[Bella’s intro: When rental agents have an option to rent a property to a married couple, a cohabiting couple, or a pair of friends, they favor the married couple very disproportionately, even when the applicants are similar in every other way. That’s what my colleagues and I found in our studies of housing discrimination. When I was doing the research for Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, I learned that there was also a form of housing discrimination against single people in the military, and I wrote about it briefly. Recently, Air Force veteran Dale Nyhus told me about his own research into the topic, which is much more extensive and up-to-date than my previous work. I am grateful to him sharing it here in this guest post.]
Discriminatory Housing Policies in the Military:
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.
So how does the DoD discriminate based on familial status? In privatized military housing, a single person with one or more children pays more rent than a single person without kids. And if the person without a kid decides to have a kid, then the rent increases for the house he or she is already in. (It’s the same house. It didn’t get bigger. It didn’t get nicer. But the member has to start paying higher rent based solely on the fact that he or she now has familial status. That is illegal.) — Some will point out that the member also starts receiving a larger housing allowance. That is true, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is illegal for a company to charge more based on familial status. Simply put, it is illegal to charge more rent based on familial status.
The DoD also gives preference based on familial status. To illustrate this, 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.
As shown above, our housing policies codify discrimination and preference based on familial status, both of which are explicitly forbidden by the Fair Housing Act. The agency charged with interpreting and enforcing the Fair Housing Act is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD’s Final Rule on the Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard states, “A practice has a discriminatory effect where it actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of… familial status.” I have already described the disparate impact created by our housing policies, and segregated housing patterns are abundantly obvious given that we have “family” housing for those with familial status, and dorms for those who are single and do not have familial status.
You may wonder why I chose this venue (the internet) to discuss the matter. You may think it would make more sense and be more productive to address these concerns through the Equal Opportunity office, chain of command, Legal, or (if all else fails) the Inspector General. I once thought that, too. I have exhausted all of those lines of effort and then some.
As it turns out, the Equal Opportunity regulations (Air Force Policy Directive 36-27, Equal Opportunity and AFI 36-2706, Equal Opportunity Program Military and Civilian) make no mention of “familial status”. Therefore, Equal Opportunity offices won’t process reports on this particular form of unlawful discrimination. (I have tried at three bases. Yokota Air Base and Little Rock Air Force Base flat out refused to take a report. Travis Air Force Base took a copy of the report, but did not act on it.) It seems a striking coincidence that Equal Opportunity publications fail to mention “familial status” when it happens to be the one legally-protected category that DoD policies violate. One might conclude that they know it’s illegal and have selectively chosen to omit it so they don’t have to deal with it. The tactic seems to be working. They’ve gotten away with it for thirty years.
I have also tried to address this through the chain of command. DoD Directive 1020.2E (paragraph E2.2.b.(2)) and DoD Directive 1350.2 (paragraph 4.3) both state that the chain of command is the “primary and preferred” channel to identify and correct unlawful discriminatory practices. Those are directives (i.e. not optional) from the Deputy Secretary of Defense (i.e. civilian leadership), yet the chain of command has repeatedly made an informed choice to ignore this form of unlawful discrimination.
When I spoke with the Legal office, I was told that “What the law says doesn’t matter.” That’s coming from an Air Force lawyer/commissioned officer. So it would seem the official position of the Air Force is that laws passed by legislators elected by the people of this country don’t matter.
Even the Inspector General (IG) has made an informed choice to be silently complicit in this violation of federal law.
I have done my due diligence to have this issue addressed through appropriate channels. None of the appropriate channels have worked, so I created this website to raise awareness about the issue. The American People deserve to know that the U.S. military is violating its Constitutionally-mandated obligation to obey civilian leadership.
Dale Nyhus is a 24-year veteran. He joined the Army in January 1995 and served as an Airborne Infantryman for four years, then cross-trained to be an Apache helicopter Crew Chief for three years. He separated from the Army in November 2001 and enlisted in the Air Force in February 2002. He has served as a C-130 Loadmaster for 17 years. He has deployed seven times (1x Bosnia; 6x OEF/OIF). He also repatriated the remains of a World War II B-24 bomber crew and flew humanitarian missions in Japan immediately after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In 2017, 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. He has earned two Meritorious Service Medals, ten Air Medals, and both the Air Force and Army Commendation Medals. His website is FamilialStatus.org.