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Housing and child care crisis at JBLM, leader says

Joint Base Lewis-McChord commander, Col. Phil Lamb, speaks about his return to JBLM during the change of command ceremony July 14, 2021 on Watkins Field. Photo credit: Samuel Weldin, Joint Base Lewis-McChord

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Housing and child care have reached levels of crisis at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, according to the commander who oversees both here.

Speaking to the Steilacoom Kiwanis Club last week, Colonel Phil Lamb, Joint Base Garrison Commander at JBLM, said forces out of the Army's control are making it difficult for military families in the South Sound area.

Lamb told members that "readiness" is the military's number one priority "and there is no other priority." To support that, a "people first strategy" is key, he added.  Making that goal difficult are the rising costs of housing off base, crime, and shortages in child care workers.

Lamb said the military is struggling to rectify these issues. "We are really broke," he said, adding that he is forced to cut programs and services because "we can't afford ourselves right now."

Housing on base is 97 percent occupied compared to 89 percent a year ago, Lamb announced.

"Demand to live on base is growing," he added, pointing to the rising cost of real estate as well as growing crime rate in the region. Lamb said a lieutenant colonel recently related a story to him that his house and car had been broken into off base two and three times respectively. Lamb said there is a "luxury" of safety living on base, which adds to the growing demand. Wait lists for base housing are six to 12 months long, he explained.

Lamb said one solution is to build more homes on base. He said there is room in the cantonment area to add housing, which would fit within the people first strategy.

Lamb, who took command last summer, is not new to the area. As a military child, he attended both Mann Middle School and Lakes High School in Lakewood up to his senior year.

Child care remains another major concern for military families. Lamb said the base has half of the daycare workers it needs to operate, down from 58% three months ago.

"We are in a downward spiral," he said.

Lamb has shuttered two of the eight daycare facilities on base with no solution in sight to reopen them. He said there are over 600 families on the waiting list that won't get in. He called the daycare situation a "readiness crisis."

Speaking personally, Lamb said housing and child care are not guarantees in military service, but maybe they should be.

"We need to look if child care should be one of those things - that needs to be a necessity that we provide to our service members," he said.

Lamb said military retirees are taking some of the burdens necessary to offset costs. He said programs on base, such as RV rental space, have risen 19 to 21 percent in cost for retirees. "Please be helpful to us," Lamb asked the Kiwanis members. "Be patient with us."

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