Once your family receives orders, the typical next question is – where do we live? There are two options here – on-base or off-base. There are pros and cons to both options. It can feel like a substantial choice. Consider these characteristics when making your next housing choice.
- Short Commute: If you are able to secure on-base lodging near where the active duty member will work, there is the added bonus of a short commute. This typically means more time at home, occasional lunches together if the family is home, and maybe even saving on gas if a bike can be used to get to work. Cycling can accomplish cardiovascular exercise, cut down on gas costs, and is green! Research your base and neighborhoods before accepting a home to understand where the housing is in relation to the assigned job if a short commute is your family’s goal.
- Save on rent: On-Base housing, no matter the size of the home, the cost is equal to the basic housing allowance (BAH) of the service member. So, you don’t have to pay over BAH for a home.
- Community: There is a kindred spirit among military families – the common bond of frequent moves and common base locations and challenges provide a common ground to build friendships on.
- Playgrounds galore: Neighborhoods on-base often have multiple playgrounds appealing to all ages and abilities. And you can walk to them easily making it easily accessible.
- Free maintenance: If your family will have many deployments, or you don’t feel as handy, the free maintenance may be your jam. They even provide certain types of light bulbs in some locations.
- Included lawn maintenance: Common areas on base are all maintained by the base. This means your non-gated front yard will be manicured by the base. This also a bonus when there are other family stressors and the lawn just isn’t going to get mowed. Or you don’t have a mover because you have never lived anywhere with a lawn.
- Never Off Duty: For the active duty member, sometimes living on base means they are never off duty. A neighbor down the street may work in the same office and want to discuss work in the off hours. Or knock on your door late at night for work.
- Homes are the same: All the homes are the same size and same look, for the ease of building and maintenance.
- No Choice: There is typically a wait list for homes on base, this means that you are not typically offered options for available homes. Instead, you are provided one address – the first available. Also, typically you have to respond within a very short time frame. This is not always an easy task if you are not currently in the area or able to look at housing.
- Age of homes: Base dependent, the age of the homes may be from the 1940s or 1970s, and some without updates in the last 20-30 years. This means that homes may not be updated like homes off-base. This may mean maintenance issues or
- All of BAH is used: Since housing is rank-based, all of BAH is taken for the home. Even with promotion, all of the housing amount is taken unless there is a concession for that housing area.
- Long Wait Times: Area dependent, the on-base housing list can be lengthy – sometimes years! If on-base housing is what you desire, apply as soon as you have orders. Be aware that each base/post has different standards for when you are placed on the wait list – either when you apply for housing or when you check-out of your current unit.
- Maintenance: While having someone else do your maintenance is nice, it is also a con because base housing is in charge of the maintenance. This means they schedule cleanings or maintenance without care for your schedule. For instance, a power washing can be scheduled by them and they will give you 24-48 hour notice for a week-long period. This means bringing all outdoor items in for the time period or until the cleaning is complete.
- Personalization: When you choose a home off-base, you can choose a home that fits your needs allowing for personalization of the home to the desires of your family. You can look for a home-based on the yard, bedroom number, or size. This is not an option when moving on base when you are put into a rank-based category based on with or without dependents.
- Choose Your Community: When you are looking for housing off base, you can search for a home-based on the community you are looking for. If you want a neighborhood that is walkable to restaurants or if you want a neighborhood with lots of parks for your children, you can look for and find a home in that desired area.
- Save Money: If you are able to find a home that is below BAH, you can use that money to pay for utilities. This is very area dependent, and the BAH rates fluctuate on location.
- Shorter commute for the spouse: If the spouse is working off-base, living off-base can mean a shorter commute for them.
- There is Off-Duty time: If you are living in a neighborhood where no one knows your job, you can escape work when you are at home.
- No on-base business rules: If you have a side hustle, or your home is totally home-based, the only rules and regulations are the ones for the county/city and state. Since on-base businesses are required to get on-base authority to run an on-base business, this is an extra hurdle – but there is no on-base hurdle for off-base businesses!
- Longer Commute: Depending on where the job is on base, and the location of the home off-base, the commute will be a bit longer. It’s true that on-base traffic can be long due to lower speed limits, but distance and traffic patterns off base can lead to a longer commute.
- Expense: If you are in an area where BAH doesn’t stretch far, you may be paying out of pocket for both your home and utilities. This can be a burden on a tight budget. Make sure to know approximate costs before choosing or picking a home. In addition, things off-base are not subsidized – grocery shopping, schools, and activity options may be more expensive.
- Need for more than one vehicle: If you are living off base, two vehicles are needed to get around unless you are in a walkable location. The active-duty service member will have to drive to their job on base, and if the spouse works, will have to drive to their job or children’s school as needed.
- Can feel isolating: This is location and area dependent, but living off base can feel isolating. If the neighborhood isn’t outdoors, or if you don’t feel like you can plug into the community, it can get lonely.
A con to both options for pet owners is that there are often breed restrictions on rentals both on and off base. Make sure you know what the restrictions are before applying for a home on or off post.
Each family has different criteria in a home and neighborhood, and there is no right or wrong answer here. It can also fluctuate based on where your orders are to. For instance, OCONUS orders may mean you have to live on-base if the occupancy rate is not high enough. Each move, make a pro/con list for you and your family and what you are looking for in a home and neighborhood.
And for those PCSing, may the odds be ever in your favor.