Have perpetually empty houses on your base? Your next new on-base neighbor could be a non-military affiliated civilian getting all the perks of on-base living without any of the sacrifice.
If your local base housing company cannot find enough service members or families to live in base housing, a long standing DoD policy allows them to fill those spots with "Other Eligible Tenants," according to this Air Force fact sheet -- including civilians. And, according to this story by my former colleague Bill McMicahel, at least one of those companies is using it.
From the story:
"The Dolce family loves their new four-bedroom home in the Eagle Heights housing area at Dover Air Force Base. ... Dolce also likes the price: He pays $1,191 a month for a Dover home with a backyard and garage on a corner lot in what amounts to a gated community. All yard maintenance is included, as are on-site home repairs and emergency response. Ronell, who works in corrections, appreciates the multiple playgrounds and the availability of church services on base."Um, say what?
McMichael writes that at Dover Air Force Base, housing contractor Hunt Companies, Inc., which manages 25 housing areas, so far has civilians living in six of those -- and they say the number is growing. Military officials say they are allowed to look for non-military tenants once occupancy is below 95 percent for at least 90 days.
And as the military downsizes housing companies, which manage, renovate and maintain living quarters for the military in exchange for the occupant's rent, may look increasingly for civilian renters. For a housing contractor empty houses mean lost money.
According to the fact sheet, the priority of renter goes like this -- "other active duty military, Guard/Reserve military and families, federal civil service employees, retired military and federal civil service, DoD contractors and the general public."
Without a military ID card, the perks to living on base are limited to the places that don't check for ID when you enter. So these tenants shouldn't be able to shop at the PX or commissary or use the fitness or MWR facilities. But they can use the chapels and the parks, playgrounds and restaurants -- all of those nice open-access amenities constructed with DoD funds. And while, yes, they've had access to this stuff before living on base, there's a difference between access and living next to it.
In the example in the story, the housing area is separated from main base and has its own entry point. And the story doesn't go into how this works with IDs for getting onto base. Some bases, like Fort Benning, Ga., have an open access policy -- as long as your ID is scanned and there are no warrants out for your arrest, you're golden. Others still keep things a little tighter. Here at Fort Campbell, Ky., for example, you can enter without a military ID or visitors pass only a certain number of times.
Some other questions the story doesn't address:
What kind of ID are these folks given for getting on and off base? Is this permitted on bases where there are highly sensitive activities?
Is there any kind of screening for criminal record, drug use, drunk driving and poor behavior? That's the kind of stuff that would get a military person kicked out of base housing and/or the military all together in fairly short order. Are we letting people on to homestead that can't live up to the standards enforced on us?
And what about the cost? Is their rent the same as what the military family next door is paying? Or is it adjusted to be closer to market rate? Because we know that while, in theory, base housing prices are competitive with off-base (and sometimes is actually more pricey), especially for large families in low pay grades, living on base can mean scoring a much larger home than you would otherwise be able to afford.
(These are all questions I'm asking the fine people of the DoD family policy office. Stay tuned).
My husband thinks this is a great idea. If the housing company can't make money, why not let them find people elsewhere?
And I know you're thinking "but military housing can be so crappy. There's a REASON their occupancy is below 95 percent -- no one wants to live there. And I don't like living surrounded by other military members anyway."
All of those things may be true. However, the housing still needs to be available if it is needed.
Allowing families -- whether Guard, Reserve, DoD civilian, or non-military affiliated -- to come in and take a home that is meant to be available to fill an immediate need for the constantly moving active duty population isn't fair to military families. And while, according to the story, housing's "no. 1 priority is to have 100 percent occupancy all the time," doing that on the backs of those who now won't be able to get a house because Mr. Jones is homesteading in a spot meant for an incoming military member is not OK.
(Edit: Some readers have interpreted the above to mean that I think Guard and Reserve are less military than Active Duty. That is completely not what I was meaning to convey. I used those populations as an example because, as a general rule, they do not PCS. If we want housing to be available to personnel who are moving and need a home today, including locals from the population who are permitted to live on base makes sense).
But here's the thing that really gets me: Military members have earned that gated community, included yard maintenance, decent rent price, proximity to neighbors who get it because they are living the same life and ability to move into a home immediately after a move without the pain of house hunting. This is part of that "non-monetary compensation package" you hear advocates discussing. It's a military benefit that you EARNED.
And that civilian family? What did they do?