As military service members transition from active duty to civilian life, searching for an affordable, vet-friendly place to settle becomes an important goal. Many veterans don’t stray far from the bases to which they were assigned, and some will put down roots in cities where they were previously stationed.
While many cities might offer a high quality of life, those places are not always the most affordable for veterans looking to use their VA home loan benefits. Affordability, safety, job market strength, federal employment opportunities, quality of education, infrastructure, average commute times, air quality and cultural attractions are among the factors that can influence overall quality of life.
“We realize that finding an affordable place to live is very important to veterans and service members,” said Samantha Reeves, executive broker for Veterans United Realty, an independent affiliate partner of Veterans United Home Loans, a mortgage lender based in Columbia, Missouri. “Many cities have a lot of great qualities to offer veterans, and we’re excited to give further insight on some cities that excel in affordability.”
Texas has a large military community that includes active-duty service members, reservists, members of the National Guard and veterans, among others, according to Texas A&M University Real Estate Center. It has the third-largest count of permanently assigned military personnel in the nation, trailing only California and Virginia. The vast majority of personnel come from the Army and Air Force.
Air Force veterans Reese and Kyle Hines decided to live in San Antonio, which is ranked No. 5 on the list of most affordable places for veterans. The couple retired from active duty after sustaining combat-related injuries during their respective tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kyle sustained several injuries after a rocket blasted 10 feet away from her, leaving her with permanent brain damage. During Reese’s deployment, an IED detonated beneath him, resulting in broken bones, permanent damage to his eyes and loss of his right hand.
Their injuries led them to the Wounded Warrior Project where they met in an Air Force softball league. They married in 2018 and made plans to get a house. The couple, like many injured veterans, needed a home modified to fit their needs. They found that there are plenty of places in and around the Alamo City that offer an affordable cost of living.
Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors and national home builder KB Home are giving the couple a new home that is personalized to their specific disabilities. The 2,300-square-foot home will feature accessibility features, including wider interior and exterior entries, level or zero-edge thresholds, a roll-in master bath shower enclosure and changes to the height of light switches and electrical outlets.
“While we can’t change what happened to Reese and Kyle Hines during their respective military tours, we can provide them with a new home personalized to their needs in a city with numerous programs and services available to help veterans like them thrive,” said Jeffrey Mezger, CEO of KB Home. “Partnering with Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors allows KB Home to do what we do best by providing Reese and Kyle the opportunity to choose unique features such as wider interior and exterior entries, a roll-in master bath shower and adjusted-height light switches and electrical outlets that will meet their current and future needs.”
He added, “San Antonio is a growing city with many opportunities for veteran families like Reese and Kyle. We’ve seen tremendous growth in San Antonio as it offers everything a big city has with a small community feel.”
Reese said that he and Kyle chose to move from Alaska to San Antonio for the ample opportunities veterans are offered in the area. “Getting access to the medical care and services we need is less complicated than it used to be,” he said. “Our new neighborhood is close to Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital and its affiliated VA facilities, and that gives us peace of mind.”
Kyle noted that San Antonio has a large military presence of retired and active-duty and proudly calls itself Military City USA.
“San Antonio has a growing presence in the field of cyber-security, both public and private arenas, that make a veteran’s unique skill set a great asset for the industry,” she said. “In addition to the VA hospital, there’s also the Center for the Intrepid, a state-of-the-art rehabilitation and research facility for military members wounded in the Iraqi and Afghanistan Wars. We are minutes rather than hours away from these kinds of services.”
Veterans United Home Loans compiled a list of affordable places for veterans to consider when relocating. Texas continues to attract businesses and workers from across the nation and around the world to take advantage of its comparatively low cost of living and cultural and recreational opportunities. Here’s a look at the areas that topped the list.
1. Laredo, Texas
Laredo is on the north bank of the Rio Grande in South Texas. The cost of living is lower than the national average, and the median home price is $113,500, which is 20.5% lower than the Texas average. The city’s location provides warm temperatures throughout the year. Laredo is home to Texas A&M International University and Laredo Community College. Because of its location and accessibility to Mexico, Laredo’s economy is primarily based on international trade with Mexico.
Cost of living index (based on U.S. average of 100): 90.7
Veteran population: 5,080
Unemployment rate: 5.40%
Median annual salary: $37,890
2. Corpus Christi, Texas
Located in the South Texas Gulf Coast, Corpus Christi has been working diligently to secure business investment and jobs. The impact this investment has had on the local economy has been significant with $35 billion to $40 billion in new investment announced during the past five years and companies building in the area from around the world, including Austria, China, Italy and Brazil. The city is capitalizing on its deep water port, educational assets and business-friendly climate to experience unprecedented growth. Corpus Christi offers popular tourist attractions, multiple hospitals, a variety of hotels, cultural venues, shopping and dining options.
Cost of living index: 94.3
Veteran population: 25,153
Unemployment rate: 5.60%
Median annual salary: $43,325
3. Lubbock, Texas
Lubbock is in the northwestern part of Texas. Its nickname, Hub City, derives from it being the economic, educational and health-care hub of the multi-county region, north of the Permian Basin and south of the Texas Panhandle, commonly called the South Plains. The city is home to Texas Tech University, the sixth-largest college by enrollment in the state. The Lubbock Economic Development Alliance’s mission is to promote economic growth by creating high-quality jobs, investing in new capital improvements and improving the city’s quality of life.
The Lubbock Economic Development Alliance has recognized a need within the city to grow the number of businesses relating to the headquarters, manufacturing, research and alternative energy industries. Lubbock has evolved into one of the most diverse economies in the state. From health care and technology, to agriculture and manufacturing, to education and retail, each market segment continues to place Lubbock as the “Hub City” of West Texas and eastern New Mexico. With a level-1 trauma center that services a 250-mile radius and a tier-1 university, Lubbock services areas as far away as Oklahoma and New Mexico.
Cost of living index: 93.7
Veteran population: 12,018
Unemployment rate: 4.80%
Median annual salary: $36,653
4. El Paso, Texas
El Paso has become the transportation and business hub for southern New Mexico and West Texas, as well as a destination for outdoor adventurers and history buffs. The city is working to create an economic environment for small locally-owned businesses in which they can not only survive but thrive. The mix of American Indian, Spanish and American cultures is evident in the city’s arts and music, architecture, and cuisine.
Cost of living index: 87.4
Veteran population: 44,580
Unemployment rate: 6.90%
Median annual salary: $39,379
5. San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio is the No. 1 tourist destination in Texas. The vibrant city in South Texas offers unique sightseeing, shopping, outdoor activities and historic sites to visit. SeaWorld San Antonio is a popular theme park. Luckily for those looking to call San Antonio home, it is also an affordable place to live. Though San Antonio’s various bases are scattered across the city, each bearing their own history and purpose, Randolph AFB, Lackland AFB, Fort Sam Houston, and Camp Bullis were officially united as Joint Base San Antonio in 2005. San Antonio is experiencing solid economic growth in 21st century industries such as bioscience and healthcare, aerospace, information technology, cybersecurity and green technologies.
Cost of living index: 88.7
Veteran population: 107,359
Unemployment rate: 6.40%
Median annual salary: $40,978
6. Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City, the capital of the state of Oklahoma, offers all of the culture, cuisine, attractions and amenities you would expect in a modern metropolis. And with its rugged Western past, working stockyards and title as “Horse Show Capital of the World,” it is rich in cowboy culture as well and offers great dining options, cultural attractions and outdoor activities to enjoy. The city aims to create new job opportunities for residents by promoting expansion of existing businesses and recruiting new business.
Cost of living index: 85.4
Veteran population: 42,000
Unemployment rate: 5.20%
Median annual salary: $40,920
7. Arlington-Fort Worth, Texas
Arlington is between Dallas and Fort Worth and about 10 minutes from the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys make their home in Arlington. The city boasts a vibrant culture of live music, shopping, golfing and nightlife and is home to the University of Texas at Arlington, which is the largest university in North Texas and the second largest university in the University of Texas System. Adventurous visitors can enjoy the original Six Flags Over Texas and Hurricane Harbor water park. The General Motors Arlington facility, sometimes referred to as GM Arlington Manufacturing Complex, produces full-size SUVs: the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade. The plant produces about 1,200 vehicles per day.
Arlington cost of living index: 100.6
Veteran population: 19,153
Unemployment rate: 5.50%
Median annual salary: $43,264
Aside from its historic culture and vibrant nightlife, Fort Worth offers a wide variety of neighborhoods and housing options, affordable living, world-class opportunities for business and endless things to see and do, including kayaking, canoeing or paddle-boarding on the Trinity River. In the Fort Worth Cultural District, you can walk to six world-class museums in a beautiful park-like setting. Known for being both a vibrant, contemporary city while still living up to its cow town reputation, Fort Worth offers the best of both worlds.
Fort Worth’s economic development plan is centered around a bold vision: High-wage job growth; a more sustainable tax base, driven less by residential property valuation and more by commercial and industrial investment; an economy that capitalizes on high-growth businesses and the creative individuals who fuel them; and a commitment to quality of place throughout the community.
Fort Worth cost of living index: 95.3
Veteran population: 42,375
Unemployment rate: 5.80%
Median annual salary: $43,877
8. Columbus, Ohio
The capital of Ohio is one of the nation’s fastest growing cities with a booming downtown. The city is brimming with new places to eat and shop downtown, and artists are shaping new areas of the city into dynamic spaces to explore. The city is adding 33 acres of riverfront green space for festivals, water sports and outdoor art. The newly opened National Veterans Memorial and Museum is the first national museum dedicated to veterans from all conflicts and branches of the armed forces. The economy is balanced with a combination of education, technology, government, research, insurance and health-care entities as major employers within the city.
Cost of living index: 92
Veteran population: 41,428
Unemployment rate: 6.30%
Median annual salary: $35,384
9. Tulsa, Oklahoma
The second largest city in Oklahoma is known for a variety of bustling urban districts, exceptional dining and one of the largest collections of art deco architecture in the nation. The Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium brings to life Oklahoma’s rich aerospace heritage. With nine square blocks filled to the brim with trendy eateries, local pubs, indie boutiques and some of the best nightlife venues around, the Blue Dome Entertainment District is quickly becoming the place to be in Tulsa.
The city recently announced the launch of 10 innovative programs designed to spark new energy into Tulsa’s commercial and retail corridors in 2020 and beyond through a comprehensive commercial revitalization strategy. The programs will provide new and innovative tools for developers, entrepreneurs and businesses launching or expanding within Tulsa city limits.
Cost of living index: 86
Veteran population: 24,324
Unemployment rate: 6.70%
Median annual salary: $36,050
10. Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville is in the northern part of Florida and west of the Atlantic Ocean. The mild climate allows residents to enjoy the city’s attractions and sandy beaches all year round. Fort Caroline National Memorial honors the short-lived French presence in 16th century Florida. The Historic Riverside and Avondale neighborhoods offer a unique mix of history, culture, charm and modern design. The Museum of Science and History has seven permanent exhibits, a new state-of-the-art planetarium and a specialty rotating exhibit.
The technology sector is booming in Jacksonville with recent announcements in fintech and strides toward making northeast Florida the country’s first smart region. Jacksonville also has been named a top U.S. city for women in tech in 2020. Made In Space, an advanced space manufacturing company, will relocate its corporate headquarters from California to Jacksonville. The announcement was made at its new 19,000-square-foot-facility on Jacksonville’s South Side. In addition, Hans-Mill Corporation, a manufacturer of stainless steel trash cans, has opened its first U.S. factory in Jacksonville, moving production from China.
Cost of living index: 91.3
Veteran population: 79,192
Unemployment rate: 7.60%
Median annual salary: $39,775