For military service members, finding safe, affordable housing near work can be a challenge. The Department of Defense helps service members meet the challenge by working to provide housing options both on and off the installation for military members and their families. Military housing initiatives have taken many forms over the years, ranging from housing funded, owned and operated by the government to public-private partnerships. Today, the DoD is taking a comprehensive approach to the solution that includes privatization programs for many installation housing areas, as well as resources to help service members find off-installation housing.
Installation housing offices are the main resource of information for service members and their families. Generally, you will be required to check in with the housing office when you first arrive at your new duty station. The housing staff can give you the ins and outs of installation housing availability and the local community's housing market. They can also help you find temporary housing and apply for housing allowances.
Housing options vary widely from installation to installation. In some areas you may find single family homes, while in other areas you may live in a high-rise apartment. Some housing areas are new, while others are in the process of being renovated. Overall, the quality of installation housing is improving as more housing areas become privatized:
- Privatized housing - Under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, housing areas are being improved and renovated to increase the availability of functional, safe homes for service members. When living in privatized housing, military members continue to receive basic allowance for housing. The manager or owner of the privatized housing acts as a rental property manager in the civilian community. Service members sign a lease for privatized housing and pay the rent directly to the owner. In most new privatized housing communities, service members are responsible for their utilities.
- Government-owned housing - Not all government housing is being privatized. In some areas, such as overseas, government housing is the only answer. Government housing is owned and maintained by the DoD. While you will not pay rent or utilities in government-owned housing, you will not receive a BAH.
- Single or unaccompanied housing - Unmarried service members and married members who are separated from their families may live in unaccompanied housing. Sometimes called barracks, dormitories or bachelor quarters, this type of housing usually consists of a single or shared room with a private or shared bath and sometimes, a living area. When you live in bachelor quarters, you can have peace of mind knowing that you don't have to come up with funds to pay rent and most utilities. You do, however, give up your BAH.
Living off the installation
Many military members choose to live in the civilian community because off-installation housing offers privacy, a separation from work and a chance to enjoy the local culture. However, off-installation housing may cost more because of the added cost of utilities. Consider your housing allowance and housing costs in the local community before you make your final decision:
- Housing allowances - Tax-free allowances such as BAH, overseas housing allowance and move-in housing allowance for overseas assignments are paid to cover the cost of housing in the private sector. Temporary lodging expense and temporary lodging allowance help cover the cost while you wait for installation housing or look for off-installation housing. More information is available at the Defense Travel Management Office website and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service site for travel entitlements.
- Rental partnership programs - In some communities, the service branches have entered into partnerships with local property managers to set aside a certain number of units for military members. There are significant benefits to both the landlord and service members through this program. More information is available through the housing office on your installation. Contact information for housing offices can be found through the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS website.
Renting vs. buying
If you have decided to live off the installation, then you must decide whether to rent or buy a home. For many people, home ownership is the American dream. It's wise to research the pros and cons of both leasing and purchasing a home:
- Renting a home - Whether you rent an apartment or a house, you should make certain you have a comprehensive lease agreement that clarifies such issues as the monthly date rent is due, the rental amount, the utilities, any late fees, pet policies and your maintenance responsibilities. Also make certain there's a clause in your rental contract stipulating a release from the lease if you are reassigned or deployed. Keep in mind that military personnel have special legal protections that may allow them to terminate leases early if they are deployed or transferred. More information is available at your installation's legal assistance office. When you rent, it's also a good idea to buy renter's insurance. It's inexpensive and, depending on the policy, will cover loss of personal items from theft, fire and possibly natural disasters.
- Purchasing a home - Buying a home is probably the biggest financial investment you'll ever make, so you'll want the investment to be a sound one. If you're considering buying, consider what you will do if you are reassigned or deployed. You may need to be prepared to put your house up for sale immediately or find a renter to move into it quickly. If you've decided to buy a home, take the time to go on a house-hunting trip in advance with as much of the family as possible. It's important to be patient and try not to make a hurried decision.