Article by: Rebecca Alwine
You’ve received your orders and now it’s time to weigh your housing options for the next duty station. There are several things to consider when making this all important decision. Let’s start with this disclaimer: Each family is going to make their own priorities, for each move.
Weigh Your Options
There is no universal right or wrong answer when considering living on or off the installation. Seasoned families can offer guidance and suggestions, but ultimately the decision should be made with your family’s best interests in mind.
When making your list of priorities, be sure to consider housing allowance in comparison to rental or mortgage costs, the quality of the school systems, the commute and the effect it will have on the service member. For example, if you are going to work 18 hour days or have to be available 24/7 very quickly, you may consider living on the installation in order to cut down on the time you are away from home.
The ‘ON’ Camp
The reasons most people like living on the installation are intriguing. Family members feel a sense of safety. Others feel like they instantly meet people who understand, and they like the ease of military housing. The housing itself is pretty universal. The move-in process is easy, and there are minimal deposits for pets and other amenities, if any. Lauren considers a lot of things when making the decision, including sense of community and commute times. “More often than not, on-post housing has the most pros. We’ve PCSed 5 times in 10 years and have only lived off-post once,” she said. However, it means that your house would be the same as everyone else’s. This could be hard for someone who enjoys do-it-yourself projects or expressing their creativity.
All military housing offices are not created equal. For every reasonable, respectful, professional office there are five who really make you question who they are working for. The same can be said for rental companies and property managers, who can also be very easy to reach when you owe them money, but impossible to get reach when something breaks.
No one is kidding when they say that your military family becomes your family. There is something extremely comforting knowing that if you need something at 2am, your neighbors are going to understand and help out. Even if you haven’t met them yet. From borrowing a k-cup when you run out of coffee, to sitting at your house while your kids sleep so you can run your spouse to the emergency room, having people who get it close by are key. “My neighbor right now will probably be one of my best friends for the rest of our lives, and I’d never have met her if we lived off-post,” Leia explains. Yes, you can develop those relationships with any neighbors, but it takes time, and that is something you don’t normally have.
The ‘OFF’ Camp
Some of the most touted reasons for why families want to live off base are quite interesting. One is to have separation from the professional and personal life. Both Maria and Kim prefer to live off the installation to give their families that separation. Maria says, “We prefer off post because he likes the ability to go home and not feel like he’s still at work, being around the corner from the company. It’s a nice separation for him.” Other families like to live off the installation in order to maintain a sense of privacy.
When searching for houses out in town, you have complete control over what you get. More and more military families are utilizing all that PCSgrades has to offer in researching local neighborhoods. You can choose the neighborhood, the number of bedrooms, the house with a fence, or even one with a pool. This is huge for large families or those who have more things.
Becky really wanted 4 bedrooms to fit all of her furniture, so she opted for off the installation as well. “I also like that my house isn’t so close to the neighbor’s like on post. I don’t want to deal with the ridiculous amount of living on post drama either.”
Some families do not meet the typical definition of family. Renee says, “We live off post because some on post housing has a limited definition of ‘family ‘. My mother isn’t disabled, but lives with us.” While the military puts a limit on how many pounds they will pay to move, some military housing would never fit the 10,000 pounds allotted to a mid-career service member.
Is There Really a Solid Answer to the On Base or Off Base Housing Question?
Probably not. But there is a “right-now” answer for each family.
Asking the important questions and prioritizing your family’s needs is the only way to make this decision. Take a look at the housing review section of PCSGrades. Carefully weigh what other families have decided about living in on or off base housing .
PCSGrades offers reviews from those with experience living in both on or off base housing. Looking at the choices made by fellow military families is a great place to start weighing your options.
Author: Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Over the past 10 years, she’s discovered she enjoys coffee, running, lifting weights, and most of the menial tasks of motherhood. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found hiding behind the sewing machine or with her nose in a book. Her writing experience includes military family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY Magazine, a regular contributor for several publications including to Homefront United Network, PCSGrades, ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com or on Twitter (@rebecca_alwine) and Instagram (@rebecca_alwine).