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There are a variety of reasons the majority of military bases always have active wait lists for housing, but most military families cite affordability as the driving factor. Other reasons include lack of off-base housing, the convenience of living near work, access to base amenities, and the camaraderie found while living near families similar to theirs.
On the other hand, other families think base housing is limited in style and condition, and the schools are questionable. In addition, 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.
The choice to live on base is easy for some families; for others, the cons far outweigh the pros. While some military members will have no choice as to where they will live because they’re assigned designated housing for reasons related to rank, location, and type of job, for others, the decision to live in military housing is not one to consider lightly.
If you’re trying to decide whether or not to live on base, this overview of base housing will help you find the right answer.
The History of Base Housing from the 1990s
After the need for modernized housing became dramatic and evident by the mid-1990s, Congress created the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) in 1996 under the National Defense Authorization Act.
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, the housing companies drastically improved housing throughout military branches. The initiative appeared to be a cure-all, despite a few voices calling for more oversight from military leaders and even from the renters themselves.
In the late 2010s, however, 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. The results have been mixed to date, but all parties involved are pledging to move forward with much more attention focused on the well-being of military families and their homes.
Learn more about privatized military housing.
What Is Your "Why" for Living on Base?
Children wave to a passing fire truck on Barksdale Air Force Base, La. 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 base housing isn’t 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, making the decision even more difficult.
Practical factors such as budget, school access, safety, and community involvement typically drive the decision-making process, but other aspects like 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 math might just make the choice to live on or off base obvious. Most housing companies take exactly what you’re allotted for BAH, which is hard to swallow if the servicemember earns a promotion, but an upgraded home isn’t 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 houses on base are charged accurately against an average of similar properties. But no system is perfect, and each housing company handles utility payments differently.
Here’s another perk to think about—power outages from accidents or storms are a big deal on a military base, so they’re usually first in the area to restore power. So it’s doubtful your house will be without power for too long, probably much shorter a period than living off base.
More Opportunities to Save
- Easy access to the Commissary, Exchange, and gas
- On base childcare
- 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?
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There are myriad 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 of long neglect by housing companies and base commanders, and there are even more factors to consider.
Your family’s size might also determine 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 readily available as three- and four-bedroom homes.
Each housing company creates policies for assigning homes, prioritizing the waitlist, and who is eligible to live on base. They can also offer property to those working in the government who are non-DOD. Retirees also have eligibility if housing remains vacant. Housing companies consider the base commander’s suggestions, 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. However, on-base options vary drastically, meaning you’ll have to spend time researching school choices. Start the process early and check multiple sources, including first-hand accounts and one-on-one conversions with school administrators.
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 pros and cons, 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, 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 and scholarships to help with the costs. Private school families have a tight network and are known to have successful carpools and share collaborative tricks to support families with day-to-day activities.
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, so remember that shared walls and yards are common. For some people, privacy is important. In their perfect world, 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 that on-base neighbors notice the contents of your recycling bin, your coming and going habits, and the rest of your daily routine.
The active duty person might have an extra vote in the privacy debate. Base living might not be the right fit if they prefer not to randomly run into their bosses at the Exchange or food court. It’s totally reasonable to want to disconnect from work as much as possible when you go home.
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Pet and Dog Breed Restrictions in Military Housing
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Pets are part of the family, but aren’t necessarily 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 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 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:
Housing and base guidelines were created partly to maintain animals' welfare. At your last home, a dog or cat who lived entirely outside might have been acceptable, but this isn’t usually true on base. Trust that your neighbors will contact authorities if you violate regulations.
Keep in mind pet security. 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 amenities: pools, JAG, car mechanics, medical outlets, social clubs, community meeting space, and 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 military housing 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.
See more: 13 Military Housing Do's and Don'ts
How Do You Apply to Live on Base?
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Each private housing company has its specific process for applying to live on base. It’s best to start researching online with the base location and housing provider to understand their procedures. For example, Fort Meade, Maryland, is operated by Corvias, while Hunt Military Communities operates the housing at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
If you start the application process as early as possible, it shortens the number of days sitting on the waitlist, but hard copies of PCS orders are not always processed promptly. 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.
Military families should generally expect a standard application submission either online or in person with supporting documents to ensure accurate eligibility according to family size and rank. You’ll likely need:
- 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, 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 departure after a servicemember's death are usually explained on the housing company’s website. 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 know that it’s very common for the family left behind after a deployment to relocate temporarily to seek help from family and friends. Most support the move and only 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 must pay monthly rent regardless of occupancy.
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 to do so for a year from the date of your loved one’s death. Should you decide to move out of government housing before the 365th day after your loved one’s death, you will be paid a Basic Allowance for Housing for the unused days at the current rate of BAH for your loved one’s pay grade.”
Base living can be an amazing experience if you’re 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 are people who want to share their good and bad experiences with you!
Stay updated 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!
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