Living On Base vs. Off Base
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What to Consider When Deciding to Live On or Off Base

March 11th, 2019 | 6 min. read

PCSing? One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is whether you will live on or off base at your new installation. Before deciding, consider these pros and cons.

Military families know that the concept of home is an ever-evolving thing. Both a blessing and a curse, constant moves are an undeniable part of military life, so it is important to be prepared and understand all your options when it’s time to relocate. 

Why You Might Want to Live on Base

There are numerous factors that surround the decision to live on base. Because the quality and quantity of housing can vary greatly from one base to another, reaching out to others through spouse groups or mutual connections can give you some insight into housing options in your new location. Overall, living on base has quite a few benefits.

  •  Close community – Living in a neighborhood with families that understand military life and what you are going through can be really helpful when your spouse is deployed and you can’t figure out why the lawnmower won’t start.
  • Easy commute – Less time spent commuting to work, school or the grocery store means more time with loved ones.
  • Safety – If you are PCSing quickly and don’t know the community you are being assigned to very well, living on base offers a solution when you don’t have time to thoroughly research nearby neighborhoods.
  • Family-friendly – Living on base gives you and your children access to family-friendly benefits such as playgrounds and activities with other military kids. 
  •  On-base facilities – Most bases offer facilities that could be of great use to you, your family or your lifestyle, such as a gym, library, medical clinic and other amenities. 

Living on base can seem like a great option; however, to qualify for on-base housing, you must be living with your dependents. If you are single, you can still live on base, but you’ll have to live in available dorm or apartment-style buildings. 

Why You Might Want to Live Off Base

Despite the advantages of living on base, there are also quite a few reasons why you might not want to. Recent national headlines have spotlighted the sub-par and even hazardous living conditions found in some on-base housing.  And even the best on-base housing has drawbacks, depending on your unique circumstances.

  • The commute – Living on base can feel isolating, especially if you want to take advantage of the surrounding area. Some stores you need to access won’t be on the installation, and depending on how close base is to town, it could make shopping trips a lot more difficult. If your child attends a school off base, you may have to drive him or her to school each day or to a bus station off base.
  •  Work environment – For service members, living on base might be difficult, because it might feel as though you never really leave work at the end of the day. Your superior could very well be your neighbor, which can make it feel like you can’t truly relax. Living off base allows you a greater level of separation between your personal and work life.
  • Waitlist – Occasionally, there will be a waitlist for on-base housing, or for certain homes on base. This means that you could be living in a hotel for months while waiting for a home to become available, or you might be forced to look for a house off base if the wait is too long.
  • Privatized housing – What’s often cited as one of the biggest reasons to live off base is that housing is privatized. The companies who own the houses are entitled to all of your Basic Housing Allowance (BAH), and it is immediately sent straight to the housing office from the military. Unfortunately, this means you don’t get to withhold the money if you feel that the house isn’t up to standards. Because there isn’t enough competition among privatized housing companies, the homes are often neglected. The Military Family Advisory Network recently conducted a survey that reported more than half (55.53 percent) of respondents had a negative or very negative experience with privatized military housing. Some have even reported living with mold, asbestos, lead, vermin and infestations during their time on base. The possibility of foregoing the comfort and safety of your home — the very place you seek refuge when the days, deployments and TDYs seem never-ending  —  might be a reason to live off base, where you have more protections as a tenant or owner. 
  • Basic Housing Allowance – One major reason why service members choose to live off base is getting BAH. This amount is deposited in your bank account once a month to cover housing costs off base. The amount you receive depends on various factors such as cost of living, rank and whether or not you have dependents. Many choose this option because it enables them to get a home below their allowance and pocket the extra money.

If you have the option to choose between on-base and off-base housing, do as much research as you can and carefully weigh the pros and cons. Your First Command Financial Advisor can help you budget for the costs associated with relocation and plan for future moves so that you feel prepared no matter where you’re sent. 

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