There are many reasons for or against the choice to live in base housing. It really comes down to the situation of the family making the call. Unfortunately, if you are a single, active duty service member under a certain rank, there isn’t much choice for you. The barracks will be home for a few years until you get promoted or married. For those of you that have the option, it might be helpful to look at some of the pros and cons for living on base before deciding for yourself.
Built in community support
Regardless of your family situation, kids or no kids, this could mean a lot to the family that likes to be around those who understand what they are going through. When living in base housing, you are surrounded by people that know the story and might be going through the same things. When your spouse is on deployment and you have a few children to take care of, being able to walk next door to talk to your neighbor about it can make that deployment a little easier. Even if you don’t have children, the comfort that base offers with security and like-minded people can make your time with the military much more enjoyable.
It takes the pain out of finding a home
A PCS (permanent change of station) can add a lot of stress to your family. Trying to move to a new duty station and finding a home can be a difficult task. It may require visits ahead of time to look at the options around base. If you know the area that you are moving to it might be easier, but in most situations, you aren’t going to be familiar with the neighborhoods around you.
Living in base housing takes all of that drama away. You know that regardless of what base you arrive at, there will be a safe neighborhood for you to call home for a few years. Now, the accommodations of each home will vary, but it’s safe to assume that the house will be adequate and have the necessities you need.
Your money will go a lot further if you are of a lower rank and have a big family
If you are a military service member, married, and have several kids, living on base is going to give you a lot more for your buck. Your housing options will be determined based on what is available and your rank. So, a higher ranked person is going to have nicer accommodations because they receive a larger BAH (basic allowance for housing) sum than someone of a lower rank. However, when you have a larger family, more than likely you will be put in a house that is going to be comfortable to accommodate several people living there. Someone of a lower rank without kids may not have as big or nice of a home available to them. It will be harder to find something off base for a family of four to fit in your BAH budget than it might be for a family of two.
Commute time will be low
Your commute time will be considerably lower than those that come onto base each day from the surrounding neighborhoods, especially if you work a day shift because you won’t have to sit at the gate during the morning rush hour. Everyone’s’ IDs must be checked at the gate before coming on base and this causes some delays and time figured into your morning commute. Living on base though, you never have to worry about that problem. You might even get lucky and live only five minutes from work.
All your BAH is gone
We mentioned BAH before. It’s an interesting thing as it will change depending on the zip code your duty station is at. This is all based on the cost of living for that area. Depending on your status as a military member, your family situation, and what your goals are, this will mean different things to the families that are making the decision. Assuming that you are of a higher rank and still have a relatively small family, your BAH could go a lot further living off base than on. So, when you live on base, all you BAH is used for your housing regardless of how big it is and how nice it is. Living off base gives you an opportunity to find something that cost less each month than your BAH, so you can keep what’s left over as extra income. It could also mean buying a house or living in a house that, in your mind, is better than on base. Whatever it is, it puts you in control of how your BAH is spent.
You might not get the privacy you want
This coincides with the “pro” listed above about “built in community support.” For some, that is great. They love to be friendly with their neighbors, partake in block parties, and hang out with the people they work with. For others, this is a nightmare. You might get stuck on the same block as a superior you really don’t like, or hate that your neighbor is always coming over and asking for favors. Living on base won’t give you much escape or privacy from the people you have to be surrounded by on a daily basis. It doesn’t give you much separation from your military life and civilian life which some people really need.
Where, what, and when is not always an option
There isn’t always going to be a choice when it comes to your home on base. Some bases are going to be better than others, but you certainly cannot expect a level playing field. You might want to live near a friend and there isn’t a home in their neighborhood. You might feel like the home is dated, but that is the only option. You might just want to live on base anywhere, but there is a yearlong wait list. You can’t bank on the idea that base housing will offer everything you you dreamed of. If you want more options and control over your living situation, it will be best to look off base.
Whether you are PCSing or your living situation has changed, there is a lot to think about with your home while serving in the military. The constant moves and changes aren’t always easy, but they do become more familiar with time. You will find what works best for your family, and hopefully the list above will begin to give you some things to think about before you make your choice. Regardless of what you choose, it’s nice the military gives you the option to live on or off base.
Feature photo taken by Matt Bilden, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force