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Returning Military Enlistees Find Crowded Housing Market

November 30, 1991

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) _ As an Army nurse’s aide in Germany, Spec. 4 Paula Porterfield had savored the prospect of life with her husband and their child at a base back home.

But upon her return to Fort Campbell, Porterfield - like many other military enlistees - found herself competing for a small supply of affordable housing near the base.

″It’s not like we were looking for a condo. There’s just nothing out there - nothing,″ said Porterfield, who eventually signed up for a bunk in a women’s barracks at Fort Campbell and sent her husband and 3-year-old daughter back home to Arkansas.

The same housing problems exist at other Army bases whose populations are increasing because of the closure of other domestic bases and the reduction of U.S. forces in Europe, Army officials say.

Fort Campbell; Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Fort Carson, Colo., will be most affected, said Maj. Rick Thomas, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

B.R. Wilkerson, deputy director of engineering at Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division, said the situation has gotten worse since the Gulf War.

Fort Campbell troops have increased in number from more than 21,166 in 1989 to 24,216 at September’s end. The numbers are still growing.

Enlistees’ families could wait up to two years for one of the 4,153 houses or apartments on base, Wilkerson said. No new construction is planned on the base until 1996.

Soldiers who returned to Fort Bragg are suffering a similar housing crunch, Sgt. 1st Class Skip Ritchey, a base spokesman.

″A lot of people were assigned to the (82nd Airborne) Division just before Desert Storm, but they shipped out immediately. Now, they’re coming back and looking for places for their families,″ Ritchey said.

The average pool of available rental units in neighboring Fayetteville, N.C., has decreased from an estimated 500 units to about 200, he said.

Even Colorado Springs, Colo., a city of nearly 300,000, has felt the impact, said Maryl Neff, spokeswoman for Fort Carson.

The first 150 of up to 2,500 soldiers who will transfer to Fort Carson by 1993 arrived last week and met with real estate agents the next day, she said.

Bob Mayo, president of the Hopkinsville-Christian County Board of Realtors in southwestern Kentucky, said the military buildup at Fort Campbell had created the strongest seller’s market he remembers. Many one- and two-bedroom houses that had sat idle are being renovated and put on the market, he said.

″This tight market is bad for the soldiers coming in with their families, but it’s a good situation for Realtors and property owners,″ Mayo said.

Landlords and real estate salespeople were in a tight spot a year ago after the 101st shipped out to the Persian Gulf. Some businesses dependent on Fort Campbell closed.

″When we got back from Desert Storm, this place was like an Old West ghost town,″ said Sgt. David Boyatt, 36, who teaches troops to operate computerized mortar systems.

Now the situation has changed, and Boyatt worries about the effect of the housing shortage on troop morale.

″When those guys come out there to go to work for me at 5:30 in the morning, I want all they got,″ he said.

″If I have someone not satisfied with his family’s housing situation, then I have a disheartened soldier, a soldier who’s not going to learn, a soldier who won’t make it.″

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