We rolled in to the new area and were promptly handed keys to our home on base. Only the second residents in the relatively new house, all was clean and move-in ready with even the cable already connected.
No, it wasn’t a dream. And while every transition for our family has most definitely not gone as smoothly, for that one moment, living on base did seem like a dream. In situations like that, where a ‘designated’ house on base goes along with the service members’ job or great housing on base is plentiful with no waiting list, the decision of whether to live on or off base may be made for you. But for most military moves, other factors weigh into the decision of where to live.
Did you know that when a “typical” civilian family buys a home, they live there for an average of 15 years? During that same time span, a military family may have moved 4-5 times or more. Since we’re so well versed in relocating our households on a regular basis, you’d think military families might know a thing or two about deciding where to live when we arrive at a new location. And we do! But situations and locations vary, and what was a great fit at one assignment may not work so well at the next.
For those that don’t have the choice made for them like we did in the above scenario (and there is some great freedom in not having to decide, honestly!), consider the following factors along with your own unique considerations when deciding where to live.
Living on Base
1. First stop: the dreaded waiting list. How long is it?
Will housing be opening up soon?Is there no waiting list? Or one that’s 18 months long?
2. How far is the commute?
How important is it to your family to be close to the service member’s job? Assuming there’s military housing available, either right away or soonish, consider how far away from the base you’d be living if you decide not to live on base and what it’s worth to you to be closer.
3. How much will you utilize base services?
Is it important to you to be within minutes of the exchange, commissary, the medical clinic, gym, pool, library, etc? If you don’t really care, that matters too.
4. What’s the housing really like?
Only once have I said outright, “I can’t live this way” when offered on base housing. Faced with ancient, peeling, 70’s era orange countertops, a dim hallway featuring a bare bulb that looked like the set of a bad horror movie, I bravely thought, Ok, ok, I can make this work. But when I flung open the back door to behold the postage stamp slab of concrete masquerading as a yard, I looked at my husband over the tops of the two little boys’ heads running in circles between us and said, “No. Way.” We lived off base at that assignment. (And there was a reason for all the open housing!)
5. How do people who actually live there feel about the housing?
What do the folks who already live there have to say? If you don’t know anyone yet, read the reviews at Military Town Advisor, which are written by military families for both on base housing and off base housing in a given area. You’ll run the gamut of brand new, never lived in housing to housing in dire need of renovation.
6. What school district does it fall under?
If you’ll be utilizing local schools, don’t be caught by surprise. Find out exactly which school district you’ll be in before you commit to living on base. Don’t just take word of mouth; research schools yourself. Some bases are large enough to warrant being zoned for more than one district.
7. How about that hometown feel?
Living on base can have a Mayberry-like, hometown feel, from the visible presence of security forces to kids riding bikes through the neighborhood. Military bases are the original gated neighborhoods! And for a long-time military kid, the playing of the National Anthem every evening, Taps at night, and the amenities that are the same on every base can become comfortingly familiar. My four kids have mentioned that the “knowns” of every base, like walking to the shoppette, make it feel like their hometown.
8. How important is it for you to live near other military families?
If you live on base, you’ll be surrounded by other military families who can relate to exactly what you’re going through. That can be a great support in many ways, especially during deployments or other uniquely military experiences.
9. What about privacy?
Some maintain that living on base feels like a fishbowl: everyone knows everyone else’s business. While bases differ, shared yards and even walls are common. Some military members, when given the choice, might rather not live down the street and within sight of their supervisor.
10. Can you follow the rules?
Living on base brings with it an obligation to follow the rules regarding everything from yard upkeep to quiet hours to whether or not you can put your truck up on blocks to work on it (newsflash: you probably can’t do that). Are you able to play nice and follow the rules to avoid a write up or being a nuisance to your neighbors? If you chafe at that sort of thing, living on base probably isn’t for you.