California is home to over 13% of the total U.S. military population, equaling 160,000 individuals, according to the U.S. Military. An additional 60,000 reservists also reside in the Golden State.

The average homeownership rate of active duty service members stationed across the nation is a low 34%, according to Trulia. This is compared with the average homeownership rate of 64% nationwide and 54% in California.

Military members regularly move every two or three years, so buying doesn’t often make sense. Those who do buy will often rent out their properties — sometimes to other military families — when they are assigned to a new duty station.

Still, about two-thirds of military families rent their housing — mostly off base, in the community. This is a problem for those stationed in California, home to some of the highest and rapidly increasing rents in the country.

Housing costs across California

An analysis of the 2011 U.S. Military Demographics Report alongside Trulia’s compilation of rental listing prices near military areas provides a picture into how difficult it can be to qualify for off-base housing with the military’s fickle housing allowance.

This allowance varies based on two factors:

  • the active duty member’s military rank, including whether they are enlisted or an officer; and
  • whether the active duty member has dependents (a spouse and/or dependent children).

The housing allowance increases with rank and with the number of dependents. However, with more dependents, the active duty member needs housing with more bedrooms. The housing allowance attempts to compensate for this by increasing the allowance to those with more dependents. But as the analysis shows, the higher housing allowance is rarely enough to cover the need for more space. 57% of active duty members have dependents, meaning they are married and/or have dependent children.

San Diego is home to the largest military population of roughly 84,000 active duty personnel assigned to:

  • Camp Pendleton;
  • Naval Station San Diego;
  • Coronado Naval Base;
  • Marine Corps Air Station Miramar; and
  • North Island Naval Air Station, among other smaller bases.

In San Diego, the monthly housing allowance for the average enlisted person is $1,800-$2,200 depending on whether they have dependents. Without dependents, about half of San Diego’s housing listings are within the housing allowance budget. But when the enlisted person is looking for more space for their dependents, $2,200 doesn’t cut it for all but 32% of listings.

Palm Springs has the next largest military population, with over 10,000 active duty personnel at 29 Palms Marine Corps Air/Ground Combat Center. The housing allowance here is very low, from $600-$800 for the average enlisted person depending on the presence of dependents. Just 12%-16% of listings are within these amounts.

Travis Air Force Base is in San Francisco — with under 7,000 active duty personnel — where the average enlisted person’s housing allowance is $3,000-$4,000 a month depending on whether they have dependents. This would seem like plenty of money for housing, but in San Francisco just 16%-25% of current listings are within the average housing allowance provided.

Monterey is home to about 6,000 active duty members, at Presidio of Monterey and the Naval Postgraduate School. The housing allowance for the average enlisted person here is $1,500-$1,900. Just 14%-22% of listings are within this allocated housing budget.

Just under 6,000 active duty members work in and around Los Angeles at various bases, including Edwards and Los Angeles Air Force Bases and Port Hueneme. The average enlisted person is entitled to a $1,800-$2,300 housing allowance, depending on dependents. Roughly a third of all listings fall within this budget.

Fresno has a little over 3,000 active duty members stationed at Lemoore Naval Air Station. Here, the average enlisted person earns a monthly housing allowance of $1,200-$1,400 based on dependents. Active duty members are much more likely to find housing here, with 50%-95% of listings falling within budget, based on the amount of space needed to account for dependents.

How can agents help?

Since the military population is spread across the state, most agents have the opportunity to tap into this high-turnover population. What’s more, the military community is tight-knit and shares resources among members. Therefore, assist one military family in finding housing and you’ll likely receive referrals for other military families.

Become a relocation specialist for active duty military and advertise yourself as such in your marketing materials. The most important things you’ll have to do to earn the right to call yourself a military relocation specialist are to:

  • learn the ins-and-outs of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mortgages;
  • be willing to work with renters, since two-thirds of military members rent; and
  • be open to the job of property manager, helping military homeowners manage their rental properties when they are stationed elsewhere.

Related article:

Become a military-friendly real estate agent