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Junior sailors scramble for a place to live after the Navy closes its barracks in Key West

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Junior sailors stationed at Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., are struggling to find housing after the closure of two of the base’s barracks sent about 60 service members looking for other places to stay. It’s an incredibly expensive housing market, including nearly $4,000 a month trailers the Navy had built for “recreational travel.”

In an email to, base spokeswoman Danette Baso Silvers said the base has decided to close accommodations for young single sailors “to carry out much-needed repairs and renovations.” According to the base’s website, the pair of buildings could house around 100 sailors.

The Navy says these sailors have a variety of options, but two who spoke with echoed a series of social media posts from troops at the base saying the alternatives are prohibitively expensive or otherwise unachievable.

Read more : Army throws cash in recruiting crisis as troops head for exits

Chief among these options are the newly created “vacation rental units” – two-bedroom mobile homes for the base’s Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) team to rent out to vacationers.

According to flyers distributed to sailors in early May and reviewed by, sailors would be charged $127 per day, or between $3,810 and $3,937 per month, to stay in two-bedroom vacation rentals.

This is the same rate the MWR charges eligible holidaymakers but, split between two service members, the rent is within the monthly housing allowance for single junior seafarers. The base has 36 such trailers.

A flyer sent out last week informed residents of the fire station that trailer rates would increase to $142 per day in October.

A sailor who spoke with called the option “ridiculous,” given the price was for a trailer.

To start, an E-1 through E-4 sailor with no dependents receives a $2,364 housing allowance for Key West. However, several websites show that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment on the island starts at around $3,000. A sailor who spoke with and was affected by the move explained that while you’re willing to pay the difference, finding an available unit is a challenge. is withholding the identities of sailors affected by the barracks closure who were interviewed for this article due to concerns about retaliation by Navy leaders.

Many rentals also require first and last month’s rent and a security deposit up front – a prohibitive amount of money for a young sailor.

The next option – privatized basic accommodation – is also a non-starter for young single sailors. According to one sailor, the waiting list for privatized accommodation is over 130 single sailors. The other sailor said they were part of a group of three sailors who asked to be roommates and were told they would be waiting four to six months.

“Since we are all single sailors, if a married family with children comes, we are pushed back, pushed back, and pushed back,” the sailor added.

Asked about the wait, Silvers said the current waiting list for privatized accommodation “can be up to four months”.

“That’s why vacation rentals are an option in the interim,” she added.

Silvers said the command was “working directly with the sailors living in the affected barracks to help them find places to live” and that the barracks closure was necessary to improve accommodations.

“These $11 million renovations will include updates to the HVAC system, fire alarm system and other facility renovations and upgrades,” Silvers said. Of the 60 sailors affected by the closure of the barracks, only 19 have yet to find alternative accommodation, she added.

A sailor told that two of their fellow sailors “found something on Craigslist where they live with eight other people in a house.”

The two sailors who spoke to also noted that the plan does not appear to take into account service members who report to command and need a place to stay while they arrange a permanent living situation. .

“My biggest worry is people who come from School A or straight out of training camp and don’t have any savings, and they’re told to find a place in 10 days. , which is impossible to do,” said a sailor.

The military generally pays 10 days of accommodation for service members who change duty stations.

A sailor who spoke with explained that he knew a serviceman who had resorted to sleeping in a tent to cover the gap, while another was forced to send his wife and child back to their country original as they slept on another sailor’s couch. .

“The way this base is run, I feel like it’s more focused on improving retirees who go on vacation and pilots who are on vacation while they train and not really on the people who work here,” said a sailor.

The issues with the Key West barracks are just the latest in a series of recent events in which the Navy has struggled with the basic housing needs of its sailors.

In February, a Navy Times investigation found the service was aware of the infrastructure problems that have plagued the barracks at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. for years – including a lack of water. hot – but was unable to resolve them. Hundreds of junior military personnel were evacuated from the affected buildings on Monday following the release of the Navy Times report.

More recently, reported that the Navy failed to disclose a series of suicides aboard the aircraft carrier George Washington. One of the main issues plaguing young sailors was being forced to move around a ship that was an active construction area, with the constant noise of power tools and outages of services like electricity and water. hot.

Shortly after this report and a speech from a senior official stating that there was little the Navy could do to help, the GW commander told the crew that anyone living on board would be allowed to leave the ship. .

When asked Silvers why the Navy Gateway Inn & Suites or Navy Lodge — hotels run by the Navy’s own Exchange Command — weren’t considered a solution in Key West, as they were in the case of Bethesda and the George Washington, she said it was because “those are not long-term solutions.”

“It has been determined that providing these sailors [Basic Allowance for Housing] and the option of living in town or elsewhere on base was the best option for long-term renovations,” she added.

When asked about vacation trailers, Silvers said “if the sailor chooses to stay in vacation rentals until the end of their tour, that’s a long-term option.”

Asked about the disparity between housing allowance and actual rent prices, Silvers said leaders “understand the price of off-base housing, which is why we came up with rental housing and [privatized base] accommodation for these seamen.”

Meanwhile, sailors in Key West say their concerns have fallen on deaf ears. A note posted by a Key West sailor on social media said that “my boss just shrugged my shoulders and said that’s it, my [Command Master Chief] laughed at me on all sides when I asked about it, and the heads of the civil services told me that their hands were tied.”

One of the sailors who spoke to said the consensus they got from management was “we gave you [a housing allowance]you understand.”

— Konstantin Toropin can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: Hundreds of sailors are being moved off the carrier after a wave of suicides, captain tells crew

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