Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

April 2,  2007  



Better housing for single sailors on horizon

By Thomas F. Coleman

After decades of experiencing inadequate housing, and years of shallow promises for improved conditions, single sailors now can see a ray of hope on the horizon.  Better residential options will soon be available -- at least for some of them.

Unmarried men and women in the Navy have historically suffered from two distinct types of housing problems.  One type affects single sailors assigned to a ship and the other affects all other unmarried rank-and-file sailors.

While at sea, all sailors -- whether married or single -- have to live within severely cramped quarters.  This can extend for months at a time.

When the ship returns to its base, the married sailors run off to their apartments and enjoy a bit of normal living.  But the single sailors are required to continue living on ship even when it is docked at home for several weeks or months.

This problem affects more than 18,000 single sailors, Master Chief Petty Officer Terry D. Scott told Congress four years ago.  Due to high housing costs in most Navy home ports, these unmarried sailors "can expect to spend years living in these conditions," Scott said.

Housing bias also affects naval personnel who are not assigned to a ship.  Single sailors live in crowded barracks, with a lack of privacy and other amenities, while married sailors get a housing allowance which enables them to rent apartments or houses off base.

The problem is that the "basic allowance for housing (BAH) for single sailors does not cover the minimum costs associated with living on the local economy," another senior naval officer told Congress in 2001.

"These inequities cause most unmarried sailors to either marry or leave the service," according to Carlton Meyer, editor of, a website run by former military officers. 

In a story entitled "Quartered on Ship," Carlton asks readers to "Imagine how an E-5 with three years service feels about the new married E-2s on his ship who graduated from high school a few months ago and live in Navy paid apartments while he remains confined to his bunk."

Thousands of teenage sailors get married each year as a way to get better housing.  Many of these "marriages" are nothing but sham arrangements with an opposite-sex friend.  A considerable number of sailors who don't want to play the "marriage" game simply leave the Navy when their first term of duty is up.

Aware of these problems, the Navy has had plans on the drawing board for several years to remedy the situation.  The ray of hope for single sailors shines from San Diego where, earlier this year, a ceremony was held to celebrate the breaking of ground on a $320 million project which is scheduled for completion in 2009.

Pacific Beacon, the Navy's first large-scale housing privatization for single sailors, will include four, 18-story towers of 941 units each, housing 1,800 single sailors and have room for 1,500 parking spaces. Each unit will have dual master suites, a living room, kitchen, balcony and private bathrooms.

Norfolk, Virginia, may be the next naval base to break ground on a housing complex similar to the one under construction in San Diego. 

About 23,000 unmarried sailors are stationed in the Norfolk area.  Many of these sailors are assigned to ships, where they each have about 20 square feet of living space.

In the San Diego project, and probably the Norfolk one as well, single sailors will live in a two-person 960 square-foot apartment.

Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, is currently the only U.S. Navy port where both single and married sailors have been guaranteed housing off ship for the past few years. 

When Petty Officer Jay Del Pezzo, then 26, was interviewed by the Honolulu Star Bulletin a few years ago, he compared his experience at Pearl Harbor with what single sailors face in other ports.

The Pearl Harbor housing complexes are "like being away in college," Del Pezzo said. This was much better than fighting with 60 shipmates over what to watch on television.

It started in Hawaii, next will be San Diego, then Norfolk.  Let's hope that someday soon  single sailors everywhere will have decent housing, just like their married buddies do now.


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Unmarried America 2007

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.