What to Consider When Living on Base
Sometimes it’s easier to have restricted housing choices before a PCS. If there isn’t base housing available, boom. Case closed, no need to consider the benefits or drawbacks of living on base. But more times than not, the option exists, even with a waiting list, so it’s best to weigh the possibilities carefully.
Here are likely the biggest topics to discuss before signing the housing agreement dotted line. Later, you’ll read some tips to finesse on base living and make the most of your time in a gated community!
Dig out the calculator and start making lists. 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 way beyond BAH, which is very common in many large cities near military bases. It’s also possible to save money on utilities if the homes on base are charged accurately on an average of similar properties. But no system is perfect and each base handles utility payments differently.
Something to think about—power outages from accidents or storms are a BIG deal on base. It’s highly unlikely your house will be without power for too long, probably much shorter a period than off base.
Other cost cutters:
- Easy access to the Commissary, Exchange, and gas.
- Low-cost and free entertainment
- Free basic yard maintenance
- Little interior upkeep
If homeschooling is a likely option, make sure an internet connection is solid and a homeschooling community is accessible for your needs. Private schools are available if the tuition and/or commute times are not problematic. Many private schools offer military discounts and have a tight network of how to research which method of teaching is best for your child.
But if public school is your most likely pick, then due diligence is a must. Research early and thoroughly through multiple sources. A few schools on base are still administered under DoDEA, but many have turned to their local school systems to provide the education, meaning your child may go off base to school, or off base kids will come on base to go to school. Each scenario has their own pros and cons, which will be debatable amongst your family.
Well, there really isn’t much. Shared walls and yards are common. Homes are built very close together and walkability is one of the benefits of living on base. For some people, privacy is a huge factor and they’d prefer five acres of solitude somewhere. For others, connectedness with neighbors is what makes living on base the best. Be truthful in your feelings, but do remember off base neighbors will also notice your coming and going habits and the contents of your recycling bin, but they probably can’t see into your living room from their easy chair.
The active duty person might also have an extra vote in the privacy debate. If they prefer not to randomly run into bosses at the Shoppette or Burger King, then base living might not be for them. It’s totally reasonable to want to be disconnected from work as much as possible when you go home.
Size and Condition of the Housing
There are a truck load of benefits to living on base, but no one ever said the quality of housing was going to be a guarantee. Housing options range from nearly condemned to brand spanking new. You’ll never know what you’re going to get. Privatized housing definitely has made livability better, but not every duplex or tiny concrete brick house on base will have been modernized.
Your family’s size might be a determining factor if living on base is even a viable option. Large families with five or more children are eligible for a home with more bedrooms, but those are not as plentiful as three-and four-bedroom homes.
Something to think about—each housing company determines their own policies for how they assign homes, prioritize the wait list, and who is eligible to live on base (some government, but non-DOD, and retirees can live there). They do take base commander’s suggestions into consideration, but not always. It’s up to you to be diligent with what you’re entitled to.
They’re part of the family, for sure, but we have to plan how they can live in the next rental with us. First to consider is whether or not you’ll need a fence. Not every house has one installed. Next, if the family pet is not a dog or a cat, there might be problems. Restrictions vary from base to base but in general, you’ll be contractually relegated to the typical domestic animals we are used to. No exotics, farm animals, or extreme reptiles are allowed.
Also, housing and base guidelines are created 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.
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 up to date 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 care insurance, and vehicle registrations.
Base living really can be an amazing experience if you are prepared for the lifestyle. In addition to practical research, reach out to groups who live there and find out the nitty gritty details of everyday life. There will absolutely be people who want to share their good and bad experiences with you.
By Dawn M. Smith