Whether you’re just starting your military career, or whether you’re relocating to a new base, figuring out your housing can be a daunting task — especially if you’re given a limited amount of time to report. As an established builder in the Montgomery, AL area, Lowder New Homes has worked with many military families relocating to Maxwell AFB, and we understand the challenges they face in determining where to live, both on-base and off-base. Let’s take a closer look at how military housing works — including what your options are, what support you can expect, whether you qualify to live off-base, and the pros and cons of doing so.
The Basics of Military Housing
- Let’s start with the most important point: If you are an active duty service member, with few exceptions, it’s the government’s responsibility to provide for your housing — whether that’s allowing you to live on-base or supplementing your costs to live off-base. That being said, the United States military is one of the most expansive and elaborate organizations on the planet, with more than 1.4 million active-duty personnel stationed at 5000 bases worldwide (4300 in the U.S.). That’s a lot of people who need housing!
Providing military housing for all those people is an extensive logistical process that takes many forms. Generally speaking, military housing is paid for with U.S. tax dollars, but the housing itself may be administered or provided in several ways, including:
- On-base housing (i.e., barracks, dormitories, apartments, or houses on-base
- Privatized housing (military housing built and managed by private companies, either on- or off-base)
- Off-base housing (non-military apartments or homes paid for with a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) paid to the service person in addition to his/her pay)
What Type of Military Housing Are You Eligible For?
The type of housing you can expect, whether on-base or off-base, depends on a number of factors — including your rank, your pay grade, your marital status, and whether you have any dependents.
For all intents and purposes, new recruits almost always start their military careers living on-base, typically in barracks shared with other service personnel. As you move up in rank, your eligibility for different housing options expands. Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect:
- During Basic Training: You will live on-base in the barracks
- If you are single: You live in the barracks or in a dormitory on-base. (The exceptions are if you achieve a pay grade of E-4 for Air Force, E-5 for Navy, or E-6 for Army and Marines. Single personnel with these pay grades or above may live off-base.)
- If you are married and/or have children: You can live on-base in military housing (apartments or single-family homes) or you may be eligible to find off-base housing.
Generally speaking, if you live on-base, your housing is covered at no cost. If you live off-base, you are given a BAH to help pay for housing.
How Military Relocation Works
If you are assigned to a new base and need to relocate, the military is responsible to provide financial and logistical support to help you make the move, even before you’ve secured your housing. The government provides a military Relocation Assistance Program to help you manage the details, and you can access that help through the Military OneSource site. Benefits include allowances to help with moving costs, resources to help with childcare, spouse employment and license transfer, and much more.
If you are not able to arrange for housing before your move (as is quite common with military relocation), or if housing is not yet available, you and your family will be put up in temporary family billeting, which is a hotel-like facility on the base for temporary stays. You’ll be allowed to stay here for up to 30-60 days while you coordinate with the base Housing Office to figure out your housing. If your housing isn’t sorted by the end of this time, the military will pay you an additional temporary allowance to stay in a motel off-base for another 10 days.
Getting On-Base Housing
If you are a new recruit or a single service member, procuring housing on the base is usually a simple matter: you’ll be assigned to barracks or an available dorm. If you are bringing a spouse and/or children with you, getting on-base housing can be a little more complicated, which is why the military offers temporary housing options as described above.
You’ll coordinate your housing options with the Housing Office. If you are eligible for on-base housing, you’ll put your name on a list, the Housing Office will let you know when on-base family housing becomes available. If on-base housing will not be available anytime soon, you have the option of getting an off-base housing referral, along with a list of possible places to rent off-base. You can choose from this list or find something on your own, and you’ll be paid a Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) to help cover the costs. When on-base housing comes available, the military will pay movers to relocate you to the base.
Getting Off-Base Housing
If you are eligible to choose off-base housing and you wish to do so — or if no on-base housing is available — you are basically free to choose the best local housing option for you and your family. If you rent an apartment or a house, the base will want a copy of your lease with a military clause that allows you to break the lease due to military orders.
You also have the option of buying your own home, which may be preferable if you know you’ll be staying for at least a year. If you have been in active service for at least 90 days, you may qualify for a VA loan which allows you to buy with no downpayment. You can also use your BAH to help with mortgage payments. You can even qualify to buy a new construction home, which is always a good investment even if you relocate in a couple of years.
Should You Live Off-Base or On-Base?
If you are given the option of living off-base or on-base, the choice really comes down to what is best for you and your family. The benefits of living on the base are that your housing is basically covered. In addition, military bases are often like towns within themselves, with medical facilities, shopping, and a post office all on the base — so on-base living gives you pretty much everything you need.
On the other hand, living off-base has its benefits as well — including the ability to choose your home (instead of having one assigned to you) and even the option for homeownership, so your family can have a sense of normalcy even in the midst of the military lifestyle.
At Lowder New Homes, we are pleased to offer many support options for military personnel seeking to own a new construction home near Maxwell AFB. We offer special financing options (including lenders offering VA loans), additional financial incentives, and even assistance from one of our certified Military Relocation Professionals (MRPs). To learn more about the benefits of off-base military housing, call us today at 334-270-6789.