Should military families live on base or off? It is a tough question military families face when they get PCS orders to a new duty station. A lot goes into making the decision. What is best for the family? What are the schools like? How old is the base or post housing? Is off-base housing reasonably priced? And where do you even start in deciding what to do? Base housing websites can be a good resource, but they rarely have all of the information you need. Installation specific websites often provide a decent overview, but maybe not the details you are searching for. And Facebook groups? We all know that while some are amazing, they are not always a reliable source of information.
Ultimately, it is great to go straight to the source, the military community, to find the information you need to make an informed decision about living on base or choosing a neighborhood out in town. We are fortunate at PCSgrades to be a part of an incredible social media community. And that is why we asked you to tell us why sometimes, you chose NOT to live in base housing. Your responses were incredibly helpful!
10 reasons military families choose not to live in base housing
1. Separating work from home. Many of you told us that having a home off base allowed your family and your service member to separate from military life, and that is essential to the health of your family. As Karen S. said, “We didn’t want to live ‘knee deep in the hooah,’ he wanted to leave the job at the unit. When he deployed, I wanted to be closer to my civilian friends.”
2. Waiting list was too long. Even if the waiting list is only a couple of months long, many families want to get settled into their new location as soon as possible. So waiting for more than a few days or weeks simply isn’t an option. Rochelle M. says, “We waited for what felt like forever and kept getting the runaround from the housing office. We ended up maxing out our government storage time, were denied an extension, and ended up finding a rental in town right before our storage expired. And wouldn’t you know it, the housing office called and offered us the place we’d been waiting for the DAY AFTER we put down a deposit on an amazing home.”
3. Housing wasn’t worth the full BAH. We heard this a lot. Base housing is typically dated and small, compared to newer construction homes. For the same (and many times less) amount of money each month, some families found they were able to secure housing that better met their needs off base. More room, updated spaces, different amenities, more space between neighbors… all of these seem to be major factors. Katie B. shared, “We didn’t want to give up all our BAH for something we didn’t feel was worth the high cost they placed on it. We rented a huge town home with three pools for $400 less than on base.”
4. Difficult housing offices. Sometimes working with the private companies that manage base housing can be a nightmare. Maintenance issues that were not fixed in a timely manner, poor communication about housing availability, and excessive fines/fees for infractions or damages, are a few of the reasons some military families choose not to live on base. Sara Jane I. shared, “We hated dealing with the companies who were managing the properties. We have lived on base twice, and off base twice, and both times off base living has been a MUCH better experience. We got a nicer house and didn’t have to pay extra for utilities.”
More reasons military families choose to live off base
5. Better schools. This is a BIG one. In some areas, the school options when living on base are simply not as desirable as the ones in town. And that is a huge consideration for military families with school-aged children. Sara E. says, “Schools that the on post kids were sent to are rated much lower than the ones about a 15 min drive away.” That’s why school ratings are just one of the factors available on our Base Guides at PCSgrades.com.
6. Breed restrictions. In recent years military installations have become more strict about the kind of dogs that are allowed to reside with their owners in housing. This has been a deciding factor for many families who were not willing to give up their furry family members in order to live on base.
7. Home ownership. Owning a home can seem like a great decision for some military families. Having a lot of pets, needing more space, and having the ability to make whatever changes you want are a few of the reasons some choose this path. Many families choose to use their housing allowance to invest in property by buying a home. Brittany B. told us, “We purchase homes at our duty stations as an investment opportunity. For us, it makes more financial sense to purchase a home instead of renting. We understand not everyone can do this, however, it has worked for us over the past 10 years.”
Dollars and sense
8. It’s simply not fair. Many families take issue with the system currently in place where everyone pays their full housing allowance for their home, regardless of its size or how new the construction is. An E3 with three children may be in the exact same size/age house as an E6 with one child, but the higher ranking service member pays quite a great deal more for that house each month. As Michelle K. pointed out, “But really there’s no bang for the buck (I’m an E7 and husband is a warrant). Why should I get the same as an E3 but pay more?!”
9. Barking dogs. This might seem like a small thing, but for many military families it creates a real problem. Due to the close proximity of houses in some base housing communities, the connected homes with thin walls, and the tiny back yards, pets can be a just one part of the noise problem. Whether it is barking dogs, children playing outside, or neighbors who like their music a little loud… noise is a big factor.
10. Drama. Yes, it’s true. Sometimes there can be drama associated with living on base. Maybe it is just the close proximity. Perhaps it is the mix of folks from so many different places. No matter the reason, many military families choose to live off base to avoid it.
In case you think this list is one-sided, don’t worry, we want to explore both the pros and cons of living on base. This article lists 10 reasons military families LOVE living on base!
Making the decision to live on base or off, is often on the top of the priority list for many of us when we get PCS orders. Thank you to all those who shared their thoughts for this article. If you need any help researching your on or off base options, PCSgrades is here to help! Have a positive or negative experience with on-base housing you wish to share? Let your voice be heard by registering for your FREE account at www.PCSgrades.com.