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F-16 move from Eielson may affect Anchorage housing market

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Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 11:54 pm | Updated: 12:10 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — A new study commissioned by the Air Force shows the Anchorage housing market could have difficulty absorbing military personnel and family members transferred from Eielson Air Force Base with the proposed relocation of the base’s F-16 fighter squadron.

The report looks at the Anchorage market for the period 2012 to 2014. It was completed Aug. 31 by contractor SAIC, then reviewed by the Air Force and made public Tuesday.

“It echoes exactly what we had been saying: That the housing capacity in Anchorage and the surrounding area and on base will not be able to supply the housing needs of a move of the F-16s to the Anchorage area,” said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

Begich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been critical of the Air Force’s proposed move of the F-16s. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, have also been critical of the Air Force proposal.

The 48-page housing study primarily addresses rental housing units. It notes that about 35 percent of the personnel at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson own their homes and that those who do own a home are more likely to be higher-ranked personnel.

The study states the Anchorage market has a vacancy rate of about 2.6 percent, down from 5 to 6 percent from recent years, a fact that “significantly limits the number of units available to absorb additional military households.”

“The relatively small number of available rental units reflects the tight rental market,” the study says.

About 300 to 330 rental units would be available in the study area, which consisted of regions up to 30 minutes driving time from Elmendorf-Richardson to 60 minutes away, according to the study.

About half of Eielson’s 3,100 military and civilian jobs would be transferred to Anchorage under the Air Force plan, which called for Eielson’s 21 F-16s to be moved out by the summer of 2013. The plan, announced in February, is part of a proposed budget-cutting realignment at 60 U.S. military installations.

Air Force officials, under pressure from Begich, Young and Murkowski, agreed earlier this year to a one-year delay of the move and to additional study, including of the Anchorage housing market. The delay runs through the current federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2013.

The findings differ from an Air Force report released in June that determined that housing markets in Anchorage and the Mat-Su region and vacant housing at Elmendorf-Richardson could absorb the Eielson personnel.

Begich said the housing impact was “one of our biggest arguments” against the move.

“It’s going to overload the system pretty quickly,” he said, adding that the new report is “another obstacle for the Air Force to overcome to move the F-16s.”

Young’s office issued a statement late Tuesday saying the housing study “reaffirms what Congressman Young has been saying for months. By moving the planes, we will not only create problems for both Fairbanks and Anchorage, but we are no longer able to take full advantage of Eielson’s strategic location.”

Eielson has been the subject of closure and downsizing concerns since 2005, when Defense Department officials proposed removing all active-duty aircraft from the base. Eielson at that time housed an A-10 squadron in addition to the F-16s.

The independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission later approved only the transfer of the A-10s. Congress and President Bush eventually agreed to that change, along with others on the list of recommendations to close or realign military installations.

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