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Frequently Asked Questions

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FAQ | March 25, 2022

BAH Data Collection & Rate Determination

The Department conducts an annual nationwide data collection to track and capture current local rental costs in approximately 300 distinct rental markets. We use housing data from a wide variety of sources to provide a checks and balances approach to ensure BAH rate reliability and accuracy. We obtain current residential vacancy data from local Military Housing Office (MHO) representatives at major military installations, commercial subscription-based rental databases, and a data collection contractor—Robert D. Niehaus, Inc. (RDN)—with extensive experience and expertise in housing market survey design. RDN and MHOs work together to contact apartment and real estate management companies to identify local available housing units for rental pricing and consult with real estate professionals in each MHA to confirm market rental prices and obtain additional data. Regardless of data source, all properties collected for the BAH program are subjected to additional screening and validation processes by both MHOs and the BAH contractor.

In addition to serving as the primary BAH contractor since 2013, RDN has 36 years of experience analyzing housing market economics for each of the Department of Defense (DoD) uniformed services (U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force), the U.S. Coast Guard, and other Federal and State agencies at approximately 250 locations throughout the United States and 30 foreign locations. The economists, data scientists, statisticians, and market researchers that comprise RDN’s BAH team have extensive experience in military housing market analysis, geospatial analysis, quantitative economics, statistical programming, program management, demographic research, price indexes, and regional growth impact analysis.

RDN does not determine BAH policy. All BAH inquiries should be directed, via your chain of command, to the compensation director of your installation and Service.

In selecting specific properties for the BAH sample, a multi-tiered screening process is employed to ensure that the properties and neighborhoods selected are of appropriate quality for Service members. RDN reviews rental data (price, number of bedrooms, etc…) by confirming property details with landlords or up-to-date property management websites. MHOs provide a second level of review, ensuring collected properties are safe and adequate for Service members, and data collection is targeted away from high crime neighborhoods. Additionally, unsuitable properties (such as mobile homes, one-room units, units in poor repair, etc.) are filtered out of any collected BAH datasets and are not used to set BAH rates.

The data is collected annually, in the spring and summer when housing markets are most active.

The data include apartments, town homes/duplexes, as well as single-family rental units of various bedroom sizes. The specific type of home used to determine a member’s BAH rate is based on that member’s pay grade and dependency status. More information can be found in the BAH Primer [PDF, 12 pages].

Separate BAH rates are set for about 300 Military Housing Areas each year, representing 300 distinct housing markets across the country. An MHA is a collection of zip codes (generally following county lines) surrounding a major military installation or a metropolitan area. The BAH program tracks military residency patterns to ensure MHAs reflect the areas in which Service members assigned to those MHAs predominantly live. The principal goal of defining an MHA around a duty station is that members ought to receive a BAH rate sufficient to permit the typical member to live a reasonable distance from his or her duty station. Of course, each member is free to choose a neighborhood that suits the individual's needs, e.g., amenities, schools, and public transportation. Member preference for school districts or other considerations is not a factor in BAH MHA decisions.

Geographically separated families (geographic bachelors) are normally eligible for BAH based on the member's duty station. Each Service budgets for support of a certain number of members and families at each location. If a growing number of people decide to leave their families in Washington, or Tampa while the member PCSs to Mt Home or Ft. Hood that could skew the budget and service support planning for these locations. Also, a fundamental philosophy of military service is that members, with their families, create a better work environment and esprit de corps when they can be active participants in the local base and community. In certain circumstances, with specific approval of the Secretary of the Service concerned, a member may be granted an exception to receive BAH based on the dependent's location. For example, if a member has a sick child that requires medical attention only available in a certain location (say Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC), and the member receives a PCS order, the member might leave the family in Washington and request BAH eligibility for that location. See the DoDFMR, Volume 7A, par. 261014 [, PDF, 116 pages] for more detailed information.

BAH is defined for every zip code in the United States, even though some locations may have no military population. This is because BAH rates must be available should a member establish eligibility in that location. It is not practical or cost effective to collect rental data for all such locations. Instead the Department relies on Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Market Rent (FMR) rental housing estimates to group these remote or low population areas into similar cost counties called County Cost Groups (CCGs). CCGs are based on housing cost similarity, not geographic proximity.

There are 39 distinct CCGs nationwide, each with similar housing costs. CCGs are linked to BAH MHAs with similar housing costs (once again using HUD FMR data), which allows BAH rates to be set for each CCG using BAH data. Although roughly half the U.S. counties (about 1,500) are in County Cost Groups, these counties contain less than two percent of the uniformed services' BAH-eligible population.

No. Per U.S. Code Title 37, Section 403(b), BAH is based on local civilian rental housing costs in a given area.

No. A military member should not be put into a situation in which a spouse is required to work, so BAH rates are based solely on the member’s income such that the member can afford housing without supplementation from spousal income.