As the draw down continues and the military community adapts, privatized military housing contractors are looking to options outside the Active Duty population to fill units. AHRN.com reached out to military families to ask how these changes would affect their housing decisions.
Living Behind the gates
For many military families, whether or not to live on the installation is a multifaceted choice. Wait lists, housing size, short commutes, finances, accessibility to resources and a number of intangibles all play a role in that decision. Chantal, wife to an Army pilot, says her family can “appreciate the fact that we lived in a community with others in the same situation. It was easier to make friends and find support.”
With the draw down in full force and the purse strings firmly tightened, it is likely that military communities will again face difficult choices when it comes to keeping programs and resources available. More than 10 years of high operational tempo have led to many families relying on child care and family activity programs available to those living on installations.
Increasingly, it looks as if military housing is evolving again. As part of Military Housing Privatization, the contracts made with community partners included clauses to protect the financial interest of the private company – including in the instance of occupancy falling below a certain point. Housing companies are “authorized to seek non-military tenants when occupancy remains below 95 percent for more than 90 days” says Col Rick Moore, Dover AFB commander.
With the separation of significant numbers of troops over the summer – the Army alone distributed pink slips to over 1700 Captains and Majors – the liklihood is that more installation housing companies will look to their “waterfall” to maintain occupancy.
One factor that has yet to be clarified is the role of rank structured wait lists. For many installations, neighborhoods are segmented based on rank groupings and one or two of these groupings often have significantly longer wait times than others. Mary Eckburg asks “If the Housing Office can’t even provide for the actual military members being assigned there, why on earth would opening the gates to others be a valid option?” A clear answer doesn’t seem to have been provided.
The DoD contract governing housing says that homes be assigned with the outlined priority waterfall; other military members not assigned to the installation or unaccompanied service members, federal civil service employees, retired military, guard and reserve military, retired federal civil service employees, DoD contractors/permanent employees and then the general public. Less clear is whether or not homes in a rank segmented neighborhood have to offered to those Active Duty members who are on wait lists for other neighborhoods at that installation before moving down the priority list.
In addition to preserving the community aspect of installation housing, service members and their families are voicing concerns about the financial aspect of civilian neighbors. Air Force spouse Megan Saunders shared, “Many of the residents feel that if you are going to open housing, you need to charge EVERYONE the same amount. No matter of rank or civilian.”
A recent Army Times article highlighting civilian occupancy at Dover AFB reported that a four bedroom home with a backyard and garage on a corner lot “in what amounts to a gated community” plus lawn care, maintenance services, and the amenities of the installation is rented for $1,091 – even less than the E2 with dependent BAH of $ 1,374.
“If they do open it up to civilians, I think they should be charged more than the military families pay in BAH, beccause they are getting many of the benefits of living on post without the sacrifice of serving,” offers Vanessa Rasanen.
Housing decisions are among the most stressful aspects of a military PCS, forcing service members and their families to make important decisions that affect school choice, spouse job options, and finances. Available installation housing offers something of a safety net for many by ensuring that there is at least one affordable option available. Significant civilian populations living in military housing could change the face of that accessibility as more permanent residents with much lower turnover. With some “wait lists being longer than a month I would be upset, to put it mildly, if my family was living in temporary lodging or a hotel because a civilian family was occupying an on-post house” offers Jennifer.
The regular turnover of PCSing military families helps to accommodate the regular PCS influx of new residents to military installations. DOD housing privatization FAQs do not cover how the impact of the occupancy waterfall on long term housing availability would be assessed or accommodated.
As Congress considers even more DoD cuts, including a reduction in the percentage of off-base housing costs covered, it is clear that military families’ housing decisions will not be simplified any time soon.
We want to know:
Would a housing companies policy of actively marketing to civilian tenants make you more or less likely to opt for on post housing?