Military families are used to sudden and frequent moves. This process can seem daunting at first, but it doesn't have to be an overwhelming task for you and your family. By researching your new duty station and its surrounding community, you and your spouse (and your children, if you have them) can be prepared - and even excited - about the coming move and your new housing options. Having the right information can help you make an informed decision about whether to live on or off the installation.
Deciding what's right for you
Some research into your new installation and your new community will help you find what's right for your family. At the outset, be sure to think carefully about:
- Your family's preferences - Compare your past experiences with what you might want for your current housing situation. Make sure your entire family takes time to talk together about what kind of situation would work best for everyone. If possible, visit installation housing areas and the local community. Then, sit down as a family and discuss the positive and negative aspects of life on and off the installation.
- Other families' experiences - Talk with other families and find out what their experiences have been. Friends and relatives who have lived in rentals or purchased houses, but who are not in the military, can also be a source of valuable information.
- What you can afford - Many experienced service members find that in most areas, it is more cost effective to live on the installation. However, because of differences in basic allowance for housing rates, sometimes off-installation housing could actually cost less. Create a spending plan to help decide what you can afford. You can find current BAH rate at the Defense Travel Management Office website.
- Whether you want to use installation or community schools - If the installation offers a DoD school, you may want to consider that in your decision. Students living on the installation typically attend DoD schools when they're available. Visit the DoD Education Activity website for more information on school curriculum and links to schools. Also, be sure to research the school systems in the local area before you make your final decision.
Pros of installation housing include:
- Economic benefits - Living on the installation may provide real cost savings. You'll need to compare your BAH to current housing costs off the installation to be sure.
- Other military families nearby for support - Other military families can offer the close relationships your family members may want, especially during deployments. Quarters can be an exciting and fun place to live if you participate in activities and seek out other families for support and friendship. If you have children, they will have potential friends close by.
- Convenience - Living on the installation is like living in a small town. The installation exchange and commissary offer easy access to shopping, and it's not hard to find an art class or other hobby to keep you busy. Most installations also offer a fitness center, sports teams and recreational activities, such as bowling centers and movie theaters.
- Schools - In general, parents with children enrolled in installation schools have a high opinion of the quality of education DoDEA schools provide, including instructional quality, safety and discipline. To attend installation schools in the continental United States, however, you may be required to live on the installation.
- Safety and security - Many military families feel a great sense of safety and security living on the installation. Military police often patrol housing areas, giving military families more peace of mind. Depending on where you live, it's also possible that you may pay less for car insurance, due to the low incidence of crime, theft and vandalism on the installation.
Cons of installation housing:
- Installation housing may not be an immediate option - You could be placed on a waiting list depending on the availability of housing at your installation. If it's necessary to live off the installation while you wait for housing, the military will pay for you to move onto the installation when housing becomes available. Your place on a waiting list depends on your rank, the date you signed up for housing and the number of bedrooms you need. Housing offices have different rules for when you can put your name on the installation housing list, so check with them early on.
- Closeness to neighbors - This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on how you view it and how you approach the situation. Some of your neighbors will be co-workers, so if you like to separate work and home, you may prefer not to live on the installation.
- Common area maintenance - Depending on your installation (and whether or not you are in a multi-family dwelling), keeping your yard clean and tidy may be your responsibility. While there typically aren't inspections of housing, there may be grounds inspections. If you receive too many citations, you could be asked to move off the installation. Mowing, weeding, raking and snow shoveling are just a few of the outdoor responsibilities you may have.
Pros of living off the installation:
- Privacy - For many people, the biggest advantage can be privacy. A single-family house, whether rented or purchased, can offer greater privacy than the multi-family housing you might have on the installation. You also have fewer restrictions and will feel a sense of separateness from your job on the installation when you go home.
- You choose the housing to fit your family's needs - Are you looking for a large, fenced yard for your children and pets to play in? Do you need more bedrooms than installation housing can offer? Do you want a unique house that you can do with as you please? If so, you may want to either purchase or rent a home off the installation.
- Experience the local culture - If the area surrounding your duty station is very interesting or exciting - or if you're stationed overseas - you might prefer to live off the installation. This can offer you the best opportunity to get involved with the people and activities in the local area.
Cons of living off the installation:
- Financial responsibilities - This may be the greatest deterrent to living in off-installation housing. If you choose to live off the installation, you will receive your BAH, which is based on your rank, number of family members and the ZIP code in which you live. If your housing costs more than your current BAH, you'll have to take on those additional costs.
- Sense of community - Depending on many factors, such as the size of the community surrounding your installation, the off-installation neighborhood you select may not be as close-knit as the military community on the installation.
- Proximity to convenient facilities - In addition to shopping and recreation activities on the installation, you may have doctor appointments and other reasons to be on the installation often.
Making it work for you and your family
Whichever decision your family makes, you can take steps to ensure it works for everyone:
- Interact with military and non-military families. Whether you live in military housing or off the installation, try to interact with both military and nonmilitary families. Establishing friendships with fellow military families allows all of you to provide emotional and moral support for one another. Civilian friendships, on the other hand, can make it easier on the family when the other military families move.
- Get involved in the community. Encourage your family members to participate in sports leagues, sign up for dance or gymnastics classes or take a class related to their favorite hobby or pastime. The installation offers these activities at little or no cost, but you can also find them at community recreational centers or the local Y for a fee. These activities can help you get to know people in the community and feel more at home.
- Stay positive. Urge your family members to stay positive about the decision whether to live on or off the installation. If the decision made is not one that your child hoped for, explain why the choice was made, what the positive aspects are and how he or she will benefit from them.