Armed Forces Retirement Home Likely to Be Demolished, Later Rebuilt - Maybe
by Keith Burton - GCN Filed 9/3/06
At the end of a row of stately live oak trees and towering 11-stories in the air is the empty Armed Forces Retirement Home just off the Beach in Gulfport. The high-rise tower was once the home of some 450 military retirees that had served the nation with honor, but since Hurricane Katrina, the home has been deserted except for some 18 employees acting as caretakers for the site. Soon those 18 employees will be gone too. November 3rd will be their last day.
The government also plans to demolish the tower. A total of $221 million has been provided since Hurricane Katrina through appropriations by the federal government for the complete reconstruction of the facility though there is a running debate in Congress as to what actually needs to be built and how much it will cost. The bill that funded the reconstruction suggests that the tower will be replaced. However, there is no official word on the tower's future so far.
The irony is that the building is in good shape. The hurricane did damage several lower floors, but it held up. But after a year without it's climate control system running, mildew and mold are taking their toll on the tower. GCN toured the facility in April and didn't see anything that could not be restored. So, the plans to shut the property down and tear down the tower seem to have other purposes.
The Gulfport campus sits on 44 acres with its modern 11-story residential building that was, until Katrina, a city within a city. The home provided over 500 private rooms for independent living, a dining facility, entertainment, transportation, medical care, and a host of amenities. The grounds included a chapel, a greenhouse where fresh vegetables and flowers were grown, a swimming pool and housing for staff.
A little history is appropriate. The AFRH in Gulfport was called the United States Naval Home until the 1990's. Until 1976 when it was built, the Naval Home had been located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where it was first established in 1833 until its relocation to Gulfport in 1976 when the tower was constructed.
In 1991, Congress merged the U.S. Naval Home in Gulfport and the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home into a single agency — The Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH)- in the executive branch of the federal government. In 2001, Congress renamed the U.S. Naval Home to the Armed Forces Retirement Home-Gulfport.
The Naval Home was initially funded by contributions from the active force. As early as 1799, contributions of 20 cents per month were taken from every active duty member for the relief of seamen in the service. This contribution was augmented by all fines imposed upon persons of the Navy and was the principal source of monies for the Naval Hospital Fund/Pension Fund. The Pension Fund also received all money accruing from the sale of prizes of war.
For nearly 100 years, the Naval Home was funded by these monies. In 1934, the Pension Fund was abolished by Congress and the proceeds were deposited into the U.S. Treasury. From 1935 until 1991, the Naval Home was funded by Navy appropriations. Most recently, the home was funded by monthly withholding from the active duty, fines and forfeitures, interest off the Trust Fund and resident fees.
In recent years, a series of management squabbles and resident complaints surrounded some of the Gulfport home's operations. Some of those issues were still pending resolution when Katrina hit.