On Base Housing ~ The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

On Base Housing ~ The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Base housing, you either love it or hate it. When orders arrive one of the first things we do as military spouses is check out the housing website. Is it new, old, on base, off base, what is the BAH, and will they let me bring my doberman? Housing all over the United States is being privatized and remodeled at a furious pace. On some bases the quality of military housing far exceeds the housing available in the local economy, while other housing should be bulldozed.

The Good

Priced at your BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing). When you sign a lease to move into a military home you agree to pay your entire housing allowance to the housing office. This price pays your rent, utilities, and in some cases your yard maintenance. There are very few financial surprises when you live on base.

Safety of living on base. Many housing areas are located on the military installation, which means you have 24/7 security.

Amenities. Many of the bases have pools, playgrounds, and gyms that are available for you to use for free as a perk for living on base.

Larger Housing. Some of the new housing is quite large and many junior enlisted families are getting much more out of their BAH than they would if they lived off base.

Pets Allowed. Most bases allow pets in housing without a pet deposit. Certain breeds of dogs are forbidden on many bases.

Community Feel. When you live on base you are surrounded by people who are in the your exact same situation. Many families are dealing with deployments, shift work, and watches. I have found that people are quick to befriend their neighbors because everyone has moved many times before.

Close proximity to work. If you are living on base, chances are pretty good you are living close to work as well. This could eliminate the need for a second car if the active duty member is able to bike or walk to work.

Close proximity to Commissary. Many times the commissary will be within walking distance from housing. With the cost of gas fluctuating it is nice to be within a mile of two of a inexpensive grocery store.

Housing is based on rank and number of children. If you are a lower rank but you have a lot of kids, you will get a larger home, regardless of your BAH. This means an E-3 with 4 kids will be living in a 4 or 5 bedroom home, even though they could probably only afford a 2 bedroom apartment on the economy.

The Bad

Utility Billing in some areas. Many bases that have been privatized are now monitoring and charging for utilities if you exceed the average use of like homes. So, if you are a utility hog you will be paying out of pocket for your utilities. But if you conserve, you will be refunded the difference each month.

False Sense of Security. Yes, the fact that you are living within the confines of the gate does keep certain people off base. But, there are many creeps and thieves that live in your neighborhoods. There is crime on military bases and people should use the same caution they would use out in town.

Small/ Old Outdated Housing. Even though many bases have privatized their housing, there are still many bases with substandard units. It takes time to remodel houses, so it is possible you could get stuck in a small, old house.

Housing Office. Usually there is only one housing office, so if you are having trouble, you don’t have many other options.

Same old, same old. Base housing usually isn’t very pretty. The materials used are usually cheaper and everyone’s house looks exactly the same, at least on the outside.

Lack of storage. This is hit or miss, I have lived in houses with a tremendous amount of storage and others were we were getting rid of things left and right in order to fit into the house. Many older homes do not have basements, attics, or garages.

Difficult for nonmilitary friends to visit. I always felt bad that our friends had to get out of their vehicles and were subjected to searches, in order to visit us. It made our house a less than ideal place for events and parties.

The Ugly

Sometimes base housing is ugly, really ugly.

In the end living on base is a personal decision that depends heavily on your personal circumstances. With the recent down turn in the economy it is sometimes a better deal to live off base. We were able to find a house significantly bigger than our base house for less than our BAH. In other places, the cost of living is extremely high and living on base allows people to stay within their budget.

I do recommend that junior enlisted families live on base if  the housing is adequate. Income is limited and living on base helps control fluctuating expenses such as utilities, that can bust a budget in a colder than normal winter.

What has been your base housing experience, good, bad or just plain ugly?

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  1. Our base housing has run the gammet of the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ve had it all. I think the biggest thing is to learn to be content with whatever you have.

    We’ve loved the good… but that was an easy love.

    We’ve made the bad and the ugly loveable… that was a little more difficult love — especially the ugly.

    In the end, though, our family is always happy when we make it our home, and not just a house. It really is a lot about the simple choices you make. Being content is a big choice, but very much worth it 🙂

  2. We have lived on post in our other posts. But, after living in really substandard housing in Germany, we are looking forward to renting off-post when we get back to the states! By the time we move from there, we’ll probably be back on post in renovated housing.

  3. So far in DH’s 8 years in the Coast Guard he has not been able to find any base housing. Most CG bases are doing away with housing for some reason and everyone is left out on the economy with their BAH pay. I’ve heard that if you’re lucky enough to get stationed at a CG base near another branch’s base that has available housing that some may allow Coastie families to live there. However, if another family from that branch of service needs housing, we could get kicked out.

    In Alaska my DH was able to find an apartment within his BAH. In California we had to double his income with me working full time in order to find something affordable. Here in Alabama we pay exactly our BAH for a house 3x bigger than our mobile home in California and I don’t have to work.

  4. Our one base housing experience so far was great. We lived on-base in Quantico, VA and it’s a really nice base to live on – nice housing, nice location, and much better deal, financially, than trying to stick with your BAH off-base.

    The few other bases I’ve been exposed to so far have not been very inviting, but I think it’s probably a case-by-case decision, so I’m sure we’ll live on-base at least one more time before we are done in the military =)

    • Lynette Goldwire says:

      Hi i read your post about base housing and i was wondering a few things. We are currently in base housing here in NC, but we have orders for Quantico. How long was the wait time before you got on-base housing at Quantico? We are scheduled to relocate there in feb 2010. We feel very secure in base housing but we were told i would have to wait back home in GA until my husband got a house or apartment. Is there any other info you could provide as far as us coming to the base? Lynette

  5. We’ve had good, great, bad and truly horrible. We’re in Germany right now an in great housing. It’s large, has tons of storage and even though it’s only got one bath and the w/d are in the basement (4 flights down for us), it’s great compared to a lot of other housing we’ve had. The worst we’ve ever had was at Ft.Huachuca. They are building new, big, beautiful housing there and lots of my friends lived in those (and I was crazy jealous), but because we were short timers (less than a year) we got the the nasty old housing with cinder block walls and no a/c. In AZ! We had a swamp cooler, that did nothing but make the house muggy. Have mercy it was horrible. I was so glad to get out of there. Every place we live though, good, bad, ugly (or horrible) we make into our home. As long as we’re together, we’re home.

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      I agree, you can make even the worst of base housing a home, sometimes it just takes a little more work! I love the sign “Home is Where the Navy Sends You.”

  6. We’ve only lived on base housing once as a family in some seven pcs moves. That time was in “stairwell” housing on an army base and was early on with our first baby. We basically had nothing to our name so storage was not an issue.

    Since then it has simply never been available to us. I would really like to try it again, because I think the community living would be great to experience. No storage? Just that much more reason to purge!

    Aw, famous last words. Don’t quote me on this down the line, please.

  7. When we were first married and my husband carried me over the threshold of our new “post housing” I could hardly believe how BIG it was! (three bedroom, two story, hardwood floors, outside shed…)

    Our first move was here to Germany… and when we opened the door to our 3 bedroom apartment, half the cabinet space, half the closet space, sharing 5 washers/dryers in the basement with 9 families… my perspective has be broadened!

    Post housing is what you make of it… it’s great to not pay utilities and be local so hubby can come home for meals… but it can be nice to “leave” post at the end of the day…

    But as ya’ll have already said – home is where our FAMILY is… and when we spent Christmas 2007 in a tiny hotel room (we were there for 5 weeks) I realized how lucky we were to be TOGETHER on our Savior’s birthday and everyday…

  8. We have lived in base housing the past 3 years and have loved it. Although the first house we were in was rather nasty we are now in one of the brand new houses on base. So nice! There are definitely some cons to living on base…like certain restrictions on what you can put up in and on your house and things you can do to the yard. (really, a yard with a warranty?) But all in all, it has been a great experience for our family.

  9. Gah. Is it not the most ironic thing that you posted earlier today that living on a base brings your family safety and 24/7 security? I don’t argue that they are not generally/historically very safe. But of all the days to say it’s safe…ironic. Such a sad day. I am so deeply sorry for the men and women returning home from combat and recovering from stress issues at Fort Hood, only to relive the nightmare in what they thought was the safest place to be. I hear Alanis singing somewhere.

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      I know, such a tragedy today. That is why I said sometimes living on base can give you a false sense of security. You never know what might happen. Right after we moved off base our neighbor had their car stolen. It is important to use common sense no matter where you live, although events like today are unexplainable. So sad.

  10. The only time we used base housing was in Hawaii. Pearl City Peninsula. It was retched, vile, hideous. But out in the town was not too great either for a lot of money. I’ve since been back to visit and it is now BEAUTIFUL!! Totally remodeled and a very desirable housing assignment.

  11. We actually got to see the old and new in our neighborhood in Ft. Ord where DLI families were housed. We were given an older house (you know, the cookie cutter row ones), but a couple blocks away from us, the old houses had been bulldozed. They then built beautiful, new homes! Gorgeous! They were doing this through out the entire Ft. Ord housing area, block by block over the next few years. As far as the spacing issue goes, we were very fortunate. We were able to get a 3 bedroom house (not duplex), even with my hubby’s E-3 rank! We had great storage and square footage for our needs, though I would not have turned down a couple extra kitchen cabinets! We also had a fenced in yard! However, we were the furthest area away from the Commissary, PX,Chapel, Library, etc–but I did make the walk a few times! We were able to keep it to one car, but that did mean I took hubby (very) early in the mornings to PT. Living on post was definitely a MUCH cheaper option. DLI/Ft. Ord is in the Monterey Bay, CA area, and I probably don’t have to tell anyone how EXPENSIVE that area is!!! We did know a few families who did go off post and they really got socked with the finances because the area is just so incredibly pricey! However, I did have ONE, BIT, MAJOR complaint with the OLD post housing: Mold. I found evidence that previous mold had been painted over! And of course, it comes back!! Ugh. The housing was privatized and that office was not easy to deal with and would do nothing about the mold unless it was growing like a jungle (actually happened in one friend’s home)! However, overall we were very happy and thankful for our housing situation.

    Something fun to note for many military families, don’t forget to check out potential discounts for local museums, attractions, etc. We were able to get a great price on a family/year long passes to the Aquarium there! 🙂

    • We were at Ft. Ord/DLI in the late 90’s. Dh was an E-3 (we had no kids) and we got a 3 bed/2 bath house overlooking Monterrey Bay. It was beautiful and spoiled us a little. We were in the older section, but our house had been renovated and was really nice. I remember thinking how HUGE it was for just the 2 of us. We barely had enough furniture to fill the LR and DR, let alone 3 bedrooms. We were on Okinawa Rd, so pretty close to the commissary and PX. It is crazy expensive to live on the economy there, and we were so happy to have our house. It’s funny how as an E-3 with no kids, we got a 3 bed with no problems, but as a WO1 (W2 next month!!!), we had to fight with housing to give us a 3 bed in Germany. We “qualified” for only a 2 bed (because we have 1 child), but as an E7, which dh was before going WO, he would automatically have gotten a 3 bed, children or not. We (meaning me),argued with housing that he had earned his 3 bed and they couldn’t take that away because he went WO. They agreed (after much discussion) and we got a 3 bed. I swear it makes me crazy sometimes.

      • I can’t believe they only permit a 2 bedroom house for WOs in Germany. My husband has been a Warrant Officer for about 5 years and we’ve always been offered 3 bedrooms and, like you, we have only one child. Huh. I guess it varies by post. We’re at Ft. Belvoir, although we live off post, and E-6s and above automatically get 3 bedrooms.

      • Oh fun! We had good friends on Okinawa road too! We lived up on Hatten (north end of the post) off of Gen. Jim. Fun memories!

  12. We lived in base housing at Holloman AFB, NM 1979-80) when I was finishing up my tour of duty. We could have been on base when we got there but nobody told me I could sign up for it. It was ok housing, but walls weren’t the greatest. One neighbor liked to turn on their tv in their bedroom, which was next to ours, at night. Sometimes we could hear all of the tv show. Sound proofing was an issue there. Other neighbor was quieter. We lived off base when we were stationed in England (RAF Bentwaters/Woodbridge)(1977-78) but lived within our means with our BAH.We both got it since we were both AF enlisted at the time. Our landlady lived in the second story of the house. House was turned into two flats (apartments) after her husband died and she rented out the bottom part. We liked it and was sufficient for 2 people. She called us her colonials. Our bathroom used to be an old coal bin so when it was cold out, there was ice on the walls at times. Only heat was little coil heater in the ceiling. Good memories. “0)

  13. We are living in our 3rd base house now (been on the same base for 6 yrs). By far the house we are in now is the best. 1st house wasn’t horrible, 2nd house was just nasty (even though it had an updated kitchen) we are now in newer houseing and no complaints

  14. We’ve never had new quarters; infact, we’re pretty used to living in sub standard housing conditions. Nevertheless, I’ve always enjoyed living on post. The community feel really makes an unattractive home feel much more comforting. We live off post at our current duty station because housing wasn’t available at the time of our move. I enjoy our neighborhood, and living in a somewhat stylish townhouse, but know that the next place we move to, we’ll try our best to live on post. It just makes sense to us.

  15. We were military during the housing shortages of the 80’s. We were always stationed where housing was short and/or substandard, so we always lived off post. As a matter of fact, at one post you could live in the sub-standard housing for free AND still get your BAQ allowance. At one duty station in Germany, there was literally NO married housing, so you lived on the economy or you stayed at home; and the town was small so the estimated wait for housing was 10 months. The soldier had to prove to their commanders that they had housing before they could approval to bring their family over. The mark rate got so bad, one soldier had to move his family into the common area of the barracks for a couple of days until he could get them a MAC flight home. Accompanied tours were greatly discourage. Needless to say, I stayed at home in the states. Even there, it wasn’t always better. Some posts had families living in nearby state parks in travel trailers. Luckily, the military, as a whole, seems much more attuned these days to the needs of families. Good luck to all of you military spouses–you have unique challanges that face you, in addition to the ones that all families face.

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