There are a variety of reasons the majority of military bases continue to have active wait lists for housing. Most military families cite affordability as the driving factor. Other reasons include the convenience of living near work, access to base amenities, and the camaraderie found while living near families similar to their own.
Other families suggest base housing is limited in style and condition, schools are questionable, and the cost savings isn’t worth the negative aspects such as paying mandatory BAH even though the rental market off base yields far better options.
For some families, the choice to live on base is easy, for others, the cons far outweigh the pros. While some military members will have no choice as to where they will live, as they are assigned “designated housing” for reasons related to rank and type of job, for others, the decision to live in military housing is not one to consider lightly. Read more about on base housing to help form your answer.
The History of Base Housing from the 1990s
Today’s privatized on base housing is derived from the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) created by Congress in 1996 under the National Defense Authorization Act. The need for modernized housing became dramatic and obvious by the mid-1990s.
The Department of Defense worked within a broken system for building and maintaining housing for servicemembers. The MPHI was designed to attract private housing companies to build, renovate, and maintain quality homes for military families. The companies who ultimately signed on for this project agreed to 50-year lease agreements with the federal government.
As the years went on, drastic improvements to housing throughout military branches were made, and the initiative appeared to be a cure-all, in spite of a few voices who called for more oversight from military leaders and even from the renters themselves.
In the late 2010s, media and federal investigations uncovered widespread neglect of maintenance and illness among military families living in base housing. The housing companies were accused of falsifying customer satisfaction surveys and ignoring repair requests.
Congress has again intervened and demanded immediate action for improvements from base commanders and private housing, including a bill of rights for tenants. To date, the results have been mixed, but all parties involved are pledging to move forward with much more attention focused on the well being of military families and their homes.
For additional information about privatized housing, read What's the Future of Military Housing?
What is Your "Why" for Living on Base?
Children wave to a passing fire truck on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Oct. 9, 2011. Sparky, the fire prevention mascot, along with several Airmen from the Barksdale Fire Department, rode through base housing to raise awareness of Fire Prevention Week. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amber Ashcraft)
Sometimes it’s easier to have restricted housing choices before a PCS. If there isn’t base housing available, the decision has been made for you-- no need to consider the benefits or drawbacks of living on base. More times than not, however, the option exists, albeit most often with a waiting list.
Practical factors such as budget, school access, safety, and community involvement typically drive the decision making process, but other aspects such as pet restrictions in military housing and base amenities influence the final choice. Prioritizing a list of must-haves for a housing solution will guide you to the best answer.
Will Living on Base Save You Money?
Dig out the calculator and start crunching numbers. Simple mathematical equations might just make the choice obvious to live on or off base. Most housing companies take exactly what you earn for BAH, which is hard to swallow if a promotion is earned but there isn’t an upgraded home available.
The opportunity to save money does exist if rental homes off base are beyond BAH, which is very common in large cities near military bases. It’s also possible to save money on utilities if the homes on base are charged accurately against an average of similar properties. But no system is perfect, and each housing company handles utility payments differently.
More Opportunities to Save
- Easy access to the commissary, Exchange, and gas
- Low-cost and free entertainment
- Free basic yard maintenance
- Little interior and exterior upkeep
Does the Size and Condition of Military Housing Matter to You?
Senior executives from seven companies that manage privatized housing on U.S. Army installations met with Army Secretary Dr. Mark Esper; General Mark Milley, Army Chief of Staff; and Daniel Dailey, Sergeant Major of the Army, the Army's top-three senior leaders, at the Pentagon to discuss ways to fix immediate problems and deficiencies in military housing. (Photo Credit: Chuck Cannon)
There are a myriad of benefits of living in military housing, but the quality and size of the available homes are not guaranteed. From base to base, options range from nearly condemned to brand new. The transfer to privatized housing increased liveability overall, but not every duplex or tiny concrete brick house on base was modernized. Add in the recent involvement of Congress to address the years’ long neglect by housing companies and base commanders, and there are even more factors to consider.
Your family’s size might be a determining factor if living on base is a viable option. Large families with five or more children are eligible for a home with more bedrooms, but those choices are not as plentiful as three- and four-bedroom houses.
Consider this—each housing company determines their own policies for how they assign homes, prioritize the wait list, and who is eligible to live on base. Properties are offered to those working in the government, but non-DOD and retirees can also be eligible for housing if they remain vacant. Housing providers take base commander’s suggestions into consideration, but not always. It’s up to you to know what type of home you’re entitled to.
School Options on or Near Military Housing
Senior military and civilian leaders gather to cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony for Seitz Elementary School, Sept. 14, 2012, Fort Riley, Kan. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)
A solid majority of military families choose public school education. On base options vary drastically, which equates to the need for an abundance of due diligence. Research early and thoroughly through multiple sources.
A few on base schools remain under DODEA administration, but most have turned to their local school system to provide instruction; meaning your child may go off base to school or off base kids will come on the installation to go to school. Each scenario has its own pros and cons, which will be debatable within your family.
If you plan to homeschool, reach out to like-minded parents already living on base to ensure a strong homeschooling community is accessible for your needs. If a thriving homeschooling community isn’t prevalent on base, there may be options that military families endorse just beyond the gates. Try Military Homeschool Support Groups for more resources.
Private schools are an alternative choice if tuition and/or commute times are not problematic. Many private schools offer military or sibling discounts, even scholarships to help with the costs. Private school families have a tight network and are known to have successful car pools and share collaborative tricks to support families with day-to-day activities.
Related: Options for Military Kids When Your Neighborhood School Isn't Ideal
The School Liaison Officer (who likely works on base) is a solid reference to assist with connections in student education, regardless of the public, private or homeschool choice.
How Much Privacy Will You Have in Base Housing?
Neighborhood homes are built in close proximity, and walkability is one of the benefits of living on base, but shared walls and yards are common. For some people, privacy is a huge factor and they’d prefer five acres of solitude. For others, connecting with neighbors is what makes living on base the best.
Be truthful with your feelings, but do remember on base neighbors notice the contents of your recycling bin, your coming and going habits, as well as the rest of your daily routine. The active duty person might have an extra vote in the privacy debate. If they prefer not to randomly run into their bosses at the shoppette or food court, then base living might not be for them.
Pet and Dog Breed Restrictions in Military Housing
They’re part of the family, but they won’t necessarily be welcome in base housing. Determining the eligibility of your pet to live on base requires pre-planning. Although each housing company determines the exact policies for which animals are allowed (domestic vs.exotic and acceptable dog breeds), military bases have their own input regarding animals in your home. Cross referencing the two sources ensures clarity.
These are general restrictions found on most bases:
- No exotics, farm animals, or extreme reptiles are allowed.
- Two to three total animals in a home.
- Dog breeds that are typically banned: American Pit Bull, Stafford Bull Terrier, Bull Mastiff, Doberman Pinscher, Chow Chow, Wolf Breeds.
For more information about pets in your military home, read:
Be aware that housing and base guidelines are created in part to maintain the welfare of animals. At your last home, a dog or cat who lived entirely outside might have been allowed, but this isn’t necessarily true on base. Trust that your neighbors will contact authorities if regulations are violated.
Will you need a fence? Not every house has one installed and your new address could be on a waitlist for installation.
More On Base Living Tips
- Use all of the amenities available: pools, JAG, car mechanics, medical outlets, social clubs, community meeting space, playgrounds.
- Read the base newspaper to keep current with fun activities and important notices.
- Rejoice in a clean, blank, beige house. There are many possibilities for decorating a rental while still getting your deposit back.
- Make nice enough with your neighbors so they’ll help pull in trash cans or pick up packages for you.
- Hold yard sales at least once a year. You’ll have a great turnout, especially if they are community wide.
- Prepare off base family and friends for passing inspections to drive through security. They’ll need IDs, updated car insurance, and vehicle registrations.
How Do You Apply to Live on Base?
Each private housing company has its own specific process for applying to live on base. It’s best to start researching online with the base location and housing provider to begin understanding their procedures. For example, Fort Meade, Maryland, is operated by Corvias, while the housing at the Air Force Academy in Colorado is operated by Hunt Military Communities.
Starting the application process as early as possible shortens the amount of days sitting on the waitlist, but hard copies of PCS orders are not always processed in a timely manner. Work with your incoming housing office to determine if they have options, such as provisional waitlists or temporary lodging before the PCS orders are received.
In general, military families should expect a standard application submission either online or in person with supporting documents to ensure accurate eligibility according to family size and rank.
- Copy of PCS orders
- Copy of most recent and updated DEERS Enrollment Form (DD1172-2)
- Branch specific confirmation of clearing outgoing duty station (examples: DA31 – Leave Form, AF Form 227)
- Copy of most current LES
- Valid Special Power of Attorney if your spouse is absent
- Valid photo ID
- Other branch specific forms such as Sex Offender Disclosure and Acknowledgement (AF Form 4422)
Don’t ignore the housing company’s FAQ links. There, detailed information regarding waitlists, pet policies, upgrading a home after a promotion, the process of adding family members to the lease, and many more topics are explained.
Deployment Vacancy and Death of a Servicemember
Special considerations such as vacancy during deployment and the process of departure after the death of the servicemember are also explained. Find relief in the knowledge that the Department of Defense directs special housing benefit provisions for dependents of servicemembers who die while serving on active duty.
Can I stay in base housing if the military member leaves on a deployment?
Private housing companies are aware that it’s very common for the family left behind after a deployment to relocate temporarily to seek help from family and friends. Most are supportive of the move and simply require notification to your neighborhood office; some work with the military police to provide extra security measures. As the tenant, however, you are bound to the lease agreement and required to pay the rent each month regardless of occupancy.
Get more tips for this decision in Deployment Ahead: Should I Stay or Go?
How long can I live in base housing if the military member dies?
This is what Military OneSource says about living on and off base after a servicemember has died.
“If you are living in government housing as an authorized dependent, you are eligible to continue living in government housing for a year from the date of your loved one’s death. If you are not living in government housing, you will be provided a lump-sum payment of 365 days Basic Allowance for Housing at the current rate for your loved one’s pay grade. You are also authorized one relocation move at government expense that must be completed within three years of the death of your loved one.”
Base living really can be an amazing experience if you are prepared for the lifestyle. In addition to practical research, join groups of those who live there to find out the nitty gritty details of everyday life. There absolutely are people who want to share their good and bad experiences with you.
Stay up to date with military housing options with MilitaryByOwner, whether on or off base. We have contact information for privatized housing offices in addition to home listings surrounding most military bases across the country.
By Dawn M. Smith
Looking for information about a specific base? Download MilitaryByOwner's Military Family Guide for your area!