Service members and their families face many challenges. One of them is figuring out where they are going to live when PCS season comes around. You may be wondering why more military families don’t live in base housing. The answer is: it’s complicated.
Although some families love living on base, others have major reasons for avoiding base housing neighborhoods. We explored some of those reasons in this article. Other families do want to live on base, but simply can’t get a house.
Most military housing neighborhoods have a waitlist because they can’t keep up with demand. Some waitlists are only a few weeks, while others can be over a year! It all depends on the size of your family and the number of units available at your destination.
The military housing waitlist issue leaves thousands of service members and their families stranded during PCS moves. Some live in hotels for months at a time…if they can afford it. Hotels cost hundreds or thousands out of pocket and are not fully covered by a monthly housing allowances or a PCS reimbursement. Other families rely on friends and family members to host them and let them temporarily sleep on couches. I personally know of a family who just marked their fourth month living in a hotel in South America. This is the second time they have had a long-term hotel stay for a PCS move!
Another overlooked group who has trouble securing housing is military recruiters. Most recruiting stations are hours away from the nearest base, so families must find housing in the local economy. But in today’s extreme seller’s market, it can be challenging for military families to buy or even rent a house near the assigned recruiting station.
Since military housing is not always an option at every duty station, some service members are taking another approach where they can control their living environment: fulltime RV living.
Living in an RV fulltime has its own set of challenges, especially if you have several children sharing the space. But with today’s housing market, it allows the service member and their family to have a roof over their heads for a predictable amount of time. This security has become increasingly appealing in the current crazy housing market.
Of course, an RV is a major purchase, so you must do your research and have adequate money in savings. Your monthly payments may be similar to a mortgage payment, so you will want to ensure payments are covered by your BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing). If you don’t know the local BAH rates for your new duty station, use our BAH calculator here.
Once you purchase an RV and calculate your payment costs, you also need to budget for the cost of campsite reservations. Due to COVID, there was a rise in RV sales, which then caused an increase in campground reservations. Some campgrounds now have a waitlist to keep up with demand. Most military bases have RV campgrounds, offered through the outdoor recreation services or MWR. These are often more affordable then off-base campgrounds, but may come with additional restrictions. Some allow full time living, but others don’t due to military regulations. Some limit the time of your stay to 3 months. After that, you must relocate–either to a different campground on base, or to one off base. Once you move out, you can get back on a waitlist to return and reset the time again.
Why military families are living fulltime in an RV
Despite the challenges listed above, there are numerous benefits to RV living that make it worthwhile for military families. When I asked my fellow military families why they chose to live fulltime in an RV, these were the most common responses:
– Base housing can’t keep up with the demand for available housing units.
– Current cost of living in the area exceeds our BAH.
– Base housing can be toxic, with black mold, rust, and other environmental toxins poisoning families.
-When PCSing, it makes sense for a military family to live in an RV.
– The housing market makes it hard for service members to live in the area with a reasonable commute.
Personally, we decided to live fulltime in an RV because the BAH wasn’t enough to cover a rental for our family in the expensive housing market of Monterey, California. My husband was a recruiter for the Army at the time. Now we are stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, celebrating our first year living fulltime in our RV. I’m grateful for the time being that we at least have an RV to live in. Through social media and PCSgrades, I’m able to share our experience in RV living and assist other military families going through the same process. I also assist military families PCSing to Fort Bragg who are looking for shelter.
Thalia Castro is a mother of two, a veteran, and a military spouse. She was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky and raised in Puerto Rico. She’s a coffee fanatic who loves event planning and traveling, and her family is now living fulltime in an RV. Thalia loves to volunteer supporting military family programs. She is experienced in customer service and currently works in hospitality, helping new military families stationed in Fort Bragg, NC. Follow her on Instagram at @usarmyfamily_fulltimerv.