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Friday, September 29, 2023

F-35s will worsen Madison’s housing crisis, harm communities of color

The military-industrial complex has taken aim. This time, Madison is in the crosshairs.  

Three years ago, in Washington D.C., the Air Force announced its pick of Madison as home to eighteen new F-35 fighter jets.

Today, the Madison community grapples with the reality of F-35s coming to their city and what consequences they might bring. 

The imminent move of the F-35s to Truax Field Air National Guard Base in west Madison has animated Madison’s activist community, who are rightly concerned about the adverse effects of the fighter jets.  

The concerns are numerous: noise volume and quality of life, sleep disturbance and hearing loss, and environmental damage to water and soil caused by the runoff of carcinogenic chemicals that maintain the jets and runway.

One issue that hasn’t gotten enough attention is how the fighter jets will exacerbate Madison’s housing crisis and hit people of color the hardest.

In Madison, historically low vacancy rates are choking the supply of affordable housing and permitting landlords to charge higher rates and administer tougher screening processes. This pushes people into unstable housing situations, eviction, and even homelessness.

Nearly half of renter households in Dane County are considered cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 50% of their income on housing.  

These housing-related hardships affect African Americans at disproportionately higher rates than whites.  

In Dane County, African Americans experience unaffordable rent, overcrowding, incomplete kitchen facilities, and incomplete plumbing at a 12 percent higher rate than white households do.

Gentrification around Madison is increasingly displacing African American renters with white ones. A report by the city of Madison concluded, “lack of affordable units disproportionately affect Households of Color.”

Putting F-35s at Truax would exacerbate all of these issues, and affect Madison’s residents of color to a higher degree.  

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The residential area around Truax is lower-income and home to a higher percentage of minorities. The path of F-35s leads directly over this community.

An Environmental Impact Report (EIC) issued by the City of Madison claimed that the installation of the F-35s would bring “significant disproportionate impacts to low-income and minority populations.”

The EIC further stipulates that over 1,000 homes would be “incompatible for residential use,” in Madison if F-35s come to Truax. This will further choke Madison’s housing supply, and minority residents of the neighborhood will bear the cost.  

Supporters of bringing F-35s to Madison’s Truax claim that losing the F-35 bid could hurt the economy, dooming Truax to the same fate of General Mitchell Air Reserve Station (GMARS) in Milwaukee. The GMARS, which was established in 1941, officially closed in February 2008. 

According to Truax’s website, the Madison military base employs around 1,400 people and generates over $90 million dollars of statewide economic activity each year.  

These aren’t the full stories, however.

Today, the old GMARS is home to the MKE Regional Business Park. The city of Milwaukee is now investing to “develop the residential and commercial areas,” around which GMARS used to occupy.

In Madison, no Base Realignment and Closure Commission has recommended the closure of the Truax military base.

At the heart of the F-35 issue is the difficulty of political actors — small and large — to resist the push of the military-industrial complex. The military-industrial complex is strong, and it doesn’t care about affordable housing or people of color. 

Despite efforts by Madison activists, a plea from the mayor, and pressure from some politicians, the F-35 move to Madison remains a very real possibility. 

Wisconsin didn’t ask for the F-35. But, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Ron Johnson voted for them.  

Indeed, Sen. Baldwin cheered the decision of the Air Force and, in her own words, played a “leading role organizing the Wisconsin Congressional delegation’s support for the Truax effort.”

Even Sen. Bernie Sanders supported bringing F-35s to Vermont, when Burlington faced the situation Madison does now. Burlington ended up getting the F-35s, against the wishes and to the detriment of many. 

The support for F-35s, even from progressives like Sen. Baldwin and Sen. Sanders, is rooted in a misguided economic argument. 

F-35s aren’t good for business. But, business is good for Lockheed Martin. 

The Pentagon is one of Lockheed Martin’s biggest customers. In October, it announced a $34 billion F-35 contract with Lockheed Martin, the largest to date for the company’s fighter program.

A National Defense article claimed that sales of the F-35 are “taking off”, as Lockheed Martin looks to “expand their global footprint even further”. The first country to use the F-35 in combat was Israel.

F-35s are a product of empire. A symptom of the military-industrial complex.  Progressive politicians should know better.

It wasn’t a progressive politician who warned Americans about the military-industrial complex. It was an army general and Republican president: Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Eisenhower felt so strongly about the military-industrial complex that he included it in  — and indeed centered it to — his farewell address. He warned, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.”

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” he continued, “can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense.”

An alert and knowledgeable citizenry advances the Wisconsin idea that students engage the broader Madison and statewide community for good.  “We live here — and we should act like it,” writes Sam Jones of the Daily Cardinal. 

The F-35s will worsen Madison’s housing crisis and harm Madison’s residents of color.  Let’s be alert and knowledgeable about it — and let’s act like it. 

Michael is a senior studying German and Political Science, with certificates in African, European, and Middle East Studies. Are you concerned about the prospect of housing F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field? Send all comments to 

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