Published March 7, 2024

The Acute Shortage of Affordable Military Workforce Housing in Hampton Roads


The acute shortage of affordable workforce housing for military families near their bases undercuts military readiness, deprives the Hampton Roads civilian economy of the critical skills of thousands of young veterans who just ended their active duty, and is a rigid bottleneck for the future economic growth of the region.


A. Major Hampton Roads area Non-Military Infrastructure Projects

B. Regional Development Groups in Hampton Roads

C. U.S. Military Commands Responsible for Installations in

    Hampton Roads, by Service

D. Key Regional and Local Economic Development Plans

Executive Summary

A.  Hampton Roads has an acute shortage of affordable commercial workforce housing near bases for military families, which undercuts military readiness, imposes traffic-congesting long commutes, diminishes military families’ patronizing of local businesses, and impairs growth of the municipal tax base.  Failure to resolve this issue has negative strategic implications to both the U.S. military and to the economic future of Hampton Roads.  This problem will escalate dramatically in the next decade due to the impending economic growth of Hampton Roads.

B.  Hampton Roads municipal governments are challenged, structurally, to engage the U.S. military on this issue.  Municipal executives meet as a regional group, but each has a discrete political constituency, tax base, and local issues.  In addition, they control their own budgets, which they tailor to the needs of their constituents.  Finally, they lack a local corresponding military executive with whom to engage.

C. For its part, the military command structure is challenged to engage municipal executives because the leaders of the services’ installation commands are not in and have responsibilities much wider than Hampton Roads.  Too, they project their capital budgets out a full two years in budgets controlled by Congress and cannot reprogram funds without Congressional approval.  Finally, service commanders must prioritize limited funding between operations, weapons research and development, and capital improvements.

D. The economy of the Hampton Roads area is about to grow exponentially in the next decade.  This will dramatically exacerbate the problem of workforce housing for all sectors of the communities.

E. Of all of the housing-challenged cohorts, the active-duty military component is best suited to work the issue because it has Federal funding, resources, and legal authorities unavailable to any other housing-challenged group.  And, service members resolving their challenges with affordable workforce housing will help address the issue for the community, writ large.

F.  Two actions would dramatically strengthen the federal and municipal governments’ ability to address the acute shortage of workforce housing.  The first would be for a Federal elected official to serve as a bridge between the service installation commands and the local municipal officials, with each bringing their respective powers and authorities to the table to find and implement solutions.  Second, create a sub-regional working group with only representatives of municipalities near bases with a workforce housing shortage and from the service installation commands owning the bases where those service members actually work.  Examples would be one task group with representatives from the Navy and the Marine Corps installation commands and the cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.  Another would be a task group with Army and Air Force Installation commands and Hampton and Newport News.


1.  The acute shortage of affordable workforce housing for the families of active-duty service members in Hampton Roads is a strategic weakness of the U.S. military and a key constraint on civilian economic development of the entire Hampton Roads area.  For the U.S. military, it undercuts readiness and manpower retention, and, over the long term, recruitment.  For the civilian sector, it costs the economy the services of thousands of service members ending their active-duty tours who would otherwise stay and work in Hampton Roads and discourages others from arriving.

2.  The shortage of affordable workforce housing for young military families reflects its overall shortage for all sectors of the military and civilian economy.  However, it hits young military and veterans’ families particularly hard.  Beyond them, it besets recently-separated service members who, now as new veterans, want to stay and work in Hampton Roads, but cannot because they cannot find housing for their families.  This denies the Hampton Roads’ civilian economy of their valuable skills.  It also exacerbates the problems of veterans homeless due to physical or psychological ailments, who, often along with their families, end up on the streets.  And, it afflicts elderly veterans on fixed incomes who want to live out their days in their own homes, but are forced into government dependency as their diminishing buying power costs them their homes.

3.  The paucity of affordable workforce housing is only one aspect of the multi-faceted “livability” situation that military families face in the region.  About 33% of service members on Hampton Roads area bases suffer food insecurity, relying on food stamps and on-base food banks to obtain sufficient nutrition.  Other facets include marginal K-12 education in areas they can afford, transportation bottlenecks, and the high-cost childcare.  And, challenges in each area are greatly exacerbated by 4 years of high inflation, which has led to a 20% cut in their buying power.

4.  Among all of the community issues, affordable workforce housing is the “apex” issue.  All other community service issues must be addressed if a community is to remain viable.  However, unless affordable workforce housing is available, progress in the others won’t matter.

5. Resolving this housing predicament is critical to Hampton Roads and to the U.S. because of its strategic relationship with the U.S. military and the region’s impending explosive economic growth, which will worsen the problem exponentially.  For its part, Hampton Roads is the epicenter of military presence on the eastern seaboard.  It hosts the highest concentration of operational forces on the east coast of the United States, including Joint Base Eustis-Langley, Naval Station Norfolk, (the world’s largest Navy base), Naval Air Station Oceana, Joint-Base Little Creek-Ft, Story, Dam Nack Naval Base.  It also hosts major port, shipyard and repair infrastructure, including the Port of Virginia, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and Newport News Shipbuilding division of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII).

6.  The military’s presence is equally important to the civilian sector in Hampton Roads.  Direct military spending accounts for 40% of the region’s economy.  The military is also a well spring of talent for the local economy with circa 15,000 service members leaving active duty in the area each year.  The continuing need to upgrade the Navy’s fleet and the increase in demand for newer vessels will directly generate large-scale civilian economic activity in Hampton Roads for decades to come.  It also generates indirect economic activity.  For example, the U.S. Navy plans to invest $500 million in downtown Newport News in the coming years to create livable areas for U.S. Navy crews assigned to ships in the HII yards.

7.  Until now, the three pillars of the regional economy have been the Port of Norfolk, the military, and tourism.  However, the economy of Hampton Roads is poised to diversify and grow exponentially over the next decade.  Key emerging industries include offshore wind, advanced manufacturing, and IT.  Other developing sectors include infrastructure for several trans-Atlantic cables that will soon terminate in Virginia Beach, uncrewed aerial and undersea vehicle manufacturing, and life sciences.  Finally, a number of large-scale infrastructure projects will make the Port of Norfolk Port a true entrepôt and greatly expand its transportation links to some of the fastest growing regions of the eastern seaboard.  (See Tab A for details of these projects.)

8.  The main challenge to finding affordable workforce housing in Hampton Roads at present is scarcity, not price.  (The median cost of a house in Virginia Beach right now is $371,000, compared to $758,000 for Northern Virginia.)  However, because the region is on the cusp of major economic growth, demand, ergo scarcity, ergo prices, will increase exponentially in the next decade.  In other words, this problem is not going to get better with age.

9.  The demography and geography of Hampton Roads makes it difficult to address the affordable workforce housing shortage through a region-wide approach.  First, with a dense and diverse population of 1.79 million people, Hampton Roads is the second most populated region of Virginia. (Virginia Beach is the commonwealth’s biggest city by population; Norfolk has the highest density in the region.)  Second, with 10 cities and 6 counties, Hampton Roads has 16 autonomous local governments, which makes local governments responsive, but mitigates against region-wide coordinated activity.  Third, it covers nearly 3,000 square miles of diverse landscape, which limits the applicability of region-wide solutions to many issues.  Finally, the working population is very mobile; 50% of the residents of Hampton Roads live in one jurisdiction but work in another.

10.  Several structural factors also challenge Hampton Roads’s ability to deal with the affordable workforce housing issue on a regional basis.

     A.  With 16 autonomous local governments, the civilian municipal government structure is de-centralized and politically complex.  Each municipality chief executive is responsible to a discrete political constituency with a self-contained tax base.  Each also has an annual spending plan unique to their specific municipality.

     B.  Regional planning is possible and local governments have organized several such groups.  (Tab B lists regional economic planning groups.)  However, they can only act as a “Coalition of the Willing”; they have no executive power per se and, due to the size and variety of Hampton Roads region, see problems very differently.

     C.  Municipal executives also lack a corresponding authoritative military official with whom they can interact.  They do meet with military base commanders in their areas.  However, for capital projects, those Base commanders are implementers, not drivers of capital investment plans.  For the services, capital programs are developed by 2- and 3-star military commands, none of whom are in the Hampton Roads area.  (See Tab C for a list of service-specific commands responsible for installations in Hampton Roads.)  That disconnect is reflected implicitly in the fact that regional economic planning documents focus almost exclusively on the civilian economy, with very little mention of the military.  (See Tab D for a list of major regional planning documents.)

     D.  For their part, military service installation commands have a different budget cycle than the municipalities.  Unlike municipal authorities, military commands have very limited flexibility in modifying spending less than two years out and can spend only that which is authorized by Congress in the annual National Defense Authorization Act.  Finally, the military services must apportion their scare dollars between immediate operational expenses – their raison d’etre –, research and development, and long-term capital expenses, which is often the least pressing immediate need.  And, they cannot shift funds without the approval of the Congress.

11.  Despite the structural challenges to civil-military cooperation, the military is uniquely well suited to help local municipal governments tackle the issue.  Of all the various homeless and housing-challenged “constituencies”, the military cohort alone has the resources of the Federal government behind it to find a solution.  In addition, addressing the issue with the military and veterans’ families leads to solutions for the entire community.  And, the need to solve this issue is uniquely important in Hampton Roads, given the region’s importance to the security if the United States and the military’s importance to the health of the Hampton Road’s economy writ large.

Policy Recommendations

1. Federal-elected officials alone are situated to engage commanders of service-specific regional installation commands.  They should engage them to get their perspectives on capital improvements in Hampton Roads-area military workforce housing needs, obtain detailed data on key livability issues at each major base in Hampton Roads, and broker their cooperation with Hampton Roads municipal governments.

2. Create a sub-regional forum of Federal, State, and local municipal executives task-organized to address the issue of the lack of affordable military workforce housing in each group municipalities that share bases and workforce.

3.  Increase the supply of the regions’ supply of affordable military workforce housing by using existing non-housing related federal programs to enhance and increase other critical community services such as childcare and schools, thus expanding areas of desirable workforce housing.


Tab A. Major Hampton Roads area Non-Military Infrastructure Projects

Non-military infrastructure projects that will add capacity and transform the economy of the Hampton Roads area include:

     A. Expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel

     B. Completion of I-87 from Hampton Roads to Raleigh and Charlotte, connecting, Norfolk, with the deepest port on the eastern seaboard, with Raleigh, NC, the fourth-fastest growing city in the U.S.

     C. Port of Virginia infrastructure improvements, including expanding the 50-foot deep port, doubling the container-handling capacity of the port, and installing advanced cargo tracking systems to improve capacity and mitigate wait-times for loading cargo onto trucks.

     D. Construction of Patriots Crossing Bridge/Tunnel project will connect the I-664 bridge directly to the Norfolk International Terminal.

     E. Development of Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project and Avangrid Renewables’ Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind project will put Hampton Roads on a trajectory to lead offshore wind development in the U.S.

     F. Completion of a $50 million, 119-mile long fiber-optic network funded by 5 Hampton Roads communities


Tab B: Regional Development Groups in Hampton Roads

A. Hampton Roads Alliance: The leading regional economic development organization for the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. It is a nonprofit, public-private partnership supported and led by the region’s most influential business leaders, local governments, and top academic institutions.  The Alliance represents 11 localities who, with the support of over 70 private sector investors, govern and resource the organization and their regional economic development efforts. Those efforts focus on the following services areas: business attraction, business expansion, and business intelligence.

B. Hampton Roads WorkForce Council: a special purpose unit of local government that oversees workforce development programs and initiatives for the Cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, and the Counties of Gloucester, Isle of Wight, James City, Southampton, and York.

C. Hampton Roads Planning District Commission

D. Hampton Economic Development

E. Development Authority of the City of Hampton

F. The Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance: The mission of HRMFFA is to attract, retain and grow military and federal facilities across the region for the common good and welfare of the residents of Hampton Roads. Through regional advocacy and influence, the Alliance acts to attract, retain and grow organizations, capabilities and investments owned, operated or funded by the Federal government.

G. Hampton Roads Community Action Plan

H. Virginia Economic Development Partnership


Tab C.  U.S. Military Service Commands Responsible for Installations in Hampton Roads

A. Commander, Marine Corps Installations Command and Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps, Installations and Logistics

   Arlington, Virginia

B. Commander, U.S. Navy Installations Command,

   Washington Navy Yard, Washington DC

C. Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center

   Lackland Air Force Base, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas

D. United States Army Installation Management Command

   Joint Base San Antonio, Texas

Tab D: Regional and Local Economic Development Plans

A. Hamton Roads Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy

B. Virginia Advanced Air Mobility Future

C. City of Virginia Beach Economic Development Plan, Sep 2021

D. Newport News Economic Plan “One City, One Future 2040”

E. Norfolk plaNorfolk20230 (2013)