People harbor many misconceptions about base housing — that it's free, that it's difficult because of rules and regulations imposed by the military, that they'll get stuck on an endless waiting list, or that the housing is always shoddy and run down.

In truth, an enormous variety of housing is available on military installations worldwide. Each has its own good and bad points.

Before you decide to move on base, do some research and find out what is actually available. Information is easy to find. The Relocation Assistance Program (RAP) at your local Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) or Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) can help, or do the research yourself using Navy Housing or Standard Information Topic Exchange System (SITES).

If you choose to live in government quarters, you'll need to notify the Housing Office, apply for a unit, and complete the application process. Understanding what to do and when to do it will spare you a lot of stress during your relocation, so be sure to contact Housing as soon as possible to see exactly what is required.

According to Sharon Cockerill of the Housing Office at Naval Training Center Great Lakes, "Sometimes the service member takes it for granted that we are going to have a housing unit available. They arrive here with no money and no place to go. If they would call or e-mail ahead, we could let them know what the requirements are for going on the waiting list and an approximate time limit."

Yes, at some locations there is a waiting list, and it can get very long. But there are both rhyme and reason in the placement of people on the list: rank, date of detachment, and the size and needs of each family. Call your Housing Office or go to Navy Housing for details about a particular waiting list.

Reasons for Rules

Now on to the misconceptions about day-to-day life on base. Living in base housing is similar to living in an area that has a homeowners association or a group that oversees issues of common concern to the neighborhood. Indeed, there are rules and regulations that are a part of accepting military housing, but they are neither extreme nor designed to make your life difficult. For example, here are some of the things you might be expected to do:

Maintain your front and back yard.

Keep the carport or garage area clean and neat.

Adhere to specified quiet hours or specified days and times for watering the yard.

Turn off outside lights during daylight hours.

Change air-conditioner or furnace filters regularly.

Refrain from using outdoor grills within a certain distance of the house.

Refrain from large painting or remodeling projects. Minor modifications are permissible, but you may have to bear the cost of returning the unit to its original condition when you check out.

As with a civilian rental, the goals are to ensure a pleasant community and maintain the property in good condition. Familiarize yourself with information provided by the Housing Office so you'll know exactly what is expected.

Benefits of Living on Base

Whether you are stationed in the continental United States or overseas, the benefits of living on base are many:

The Housing Office will consider the size and makeup of your family in determining how big a house you are eligible for. The result is that your family may be offered a larger house and yard than you could afford in town.

You are not charged for basic utilities such as electricity, water, gas, or trash pickup (telephone and cable services are not included).

If an appliance in your unit breaks, you merely have to call Housing and a repair person is sent out at no cost to you. For non-emergencies, though, getting a repair person may take a little longer than you'd like.

You can request an increase in neighborhood patrols from the base police if you are out of town. In some locations, base police can also help if you've locked yourself out of the house.

You'll find camaraderie with families who have experienced and understand the challenges of deployments, underway times, and long family separations.

You may be close to base services, such as the gym, pool, base movie theater, commissary, exchange, or the Self-Help Store.

If you decide to move into base housing, the Navy in effect becomes your landlord. There are some issues you should be aware of:

You cannot sublease your unit.

You may have to notify the Housing Office and obtain written permission in certain situations, such as when you have guests for an extended visit, a home business, a foster child, a live-in aide, or a non-traditional pet such as a lizard or snake.

Neither the Navy, the Marine Corps, nor the Housing Office provide personal property insurance; you will need to buy your own.

Like their civilian counterparts, the Housing Office asks that residents provide advance notice when they plan to vacate a home. Notifying Housing well before your departure helps them accurately manage the housing area, but it also ensures that you have enough time to resolve potential problems. They will provide you a list of what is expected upon checkout. Your unit will be inspected to verify that it is clean and in good condition before you are officially terminated from housing.

Financially, living in government quarters can be a good deal, particularly in high-cost areas or if the size of your family requires many rooms. You don't pay rent in the traditional sense of writing a check to the landlord, but your housing allowance will be withheld. Living on base is definitely not free. You will see a reduction in your monthly pay, so be sure to account for that difference when planning your budget.

Before making your final housing decision, at least take a look at what's available on base. There is no obligation involved in just looking, and you may find a situation that is financially, emotionally, and geographically more satisfying for you and your family.

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