Most of Havok Journal’s readers remember when the Army privatized base housing; for those who might be too young to remember when the Army owned and managed your home, I can confidently say that when housing on Army bases was privatized, the homes and common areas got nicer…a lot nicer. Two car garages, open floor plans, granite countertops, fenced backyards, easy maintenance, nice landscaping, parks, sidewalks, washers and dryers, and even dish washing machines.
With privatization an E-6 could finally live like his civilian counterpart instead of drying his clothes on a line (that was installed in the 1950s) on the back patio. With privatization of base housing also came better service. When the Army ran its housing, the response to maintenance issues was slow and bureaucratic. Many quarters were in poor and sometimes even inhospitable living conditions (mold, water damage, lead paint, cracking foundations etc.).
Common areas such as parks were often in disrepair or non existent. Modern appliances were often not added as the decades passed. Soldiers parked their cars in open air carports or on the street, air dried their dishes, sometimes dried their clothes on a line in back, and had to haul the kids to the one and only playground on post that had no shade. I think it is fair to say that we are all happy those days are over.
However with this privatization of base housing came some bad stuff too. The contractual stipulations that big Army clandestinely signed onto might actually border on illegal. One stipulation that sneaked through unseen was quite a big deal; you see when the DoD got out of the housing business, it agreed to allow the private companies who own and manage these houses to lease them to civilians if they go unoccupied. Yes, you heard that right; civilians can now live on base. An Air Force Fact Sheet states:
At all privatized locations if occupancy falls below the specified thresholds, policy allows other active duty military, Guard/Reserve military and families, federal civil service employees, retired military and federal civil service, DoD contractors and the general public to apply for and live in privatized housing. OETs ensure the housing privatization project stays financially viable and is a crucial element of sustainability for each housing community.”
During the height of the war this was not an issue; there were more than enough soldiers to fill these houses. But now as we downsize, vacancy of these homes is becoming a profit problem for these private property companies. Many bases have already started this civilian renting process. Fort Hood, Texas is the latest, and as expected there are problems.
The Army Times reports that, if the housing company on a military installation cannot fill all units they can legally rent the empty ones to civilians with absolutely no affiliation to the military. That is correct, the policy on many bases states that if occupancy falls under 95%, the company can look to the civilian population to fill them. The Fort Hood, Housing Project Director, Mack Quinney states that:
Our first priority is, and always will be, taking care of service members and their families here at Fort Hood, but we are equally excited to welcome all renters into our community and invite them to make their home with us,”
Applicants can apply for homes with two, three or four bedrooms in a community with 24-hour emergency maintenance, walking and biking trails, basic utilities, trash and recycling pick-up, and community center amenities including a splash pad and fitness center, according to a press release from Fort Hood Family Housing.”
So what is the problem with civilians living in base housing? See below for seven problems that I thought of in just one hours’ time.
Security: I (very unscientifically) ran this by my military friends who live on bases that have adopted this civilian renting policy, and they report that they are unsure as to what kind of background check these civilians go through if any, in order to live on their military base. Is it the same background check I went through to rent an apartment off base in Washington DC? Also unknown, is the manner in which civilians access the base’s entry points. Do they have an ID? Look, a lot of civilians probably would not want to reside with all military families, but I can think of a certain demographic who might…Terrorists. Call me overactive, but moving into base housing on Fort Bragg sounds like something a home grown ISIS type might be very interested in.
Differences in rent price: It has been reported by several of my military colleagues that they have witnessed large differences in rent price for these base homes as well. For example it has been observed that on Fort Ord, in California, an officer pays $2200.00 for a three bedroom home, with an ocean view, while the same unit rented to a civilian family for $900.00. This seems very unfair and maybe illegal.
Common Community: Many military families choose to live on a base of the communal quality of life and the security provided; it is a benefit of service to our nation. If a service member is deployed to our nation’s longest war, at least her kids can ride their bikes to the park. At least her husband can live next to a family who totally gets what his family is going through. Why should a civilian be allowed to live on a military post? I can perhaps wrap my brain around allowing Guard and Reserve soldiers access to these homes, but even that has problems.
Homesteading: What happens if a civilian moves into a grand, masonry, historic, Colonel’s quarters on Fort Riley and never moves out? What happens when a civilian family moves into the corner lot of NCO housing on Camp Pendelton and never moves out? What happens to the incoming soldier or officer who should inhabit that corner lot with four bedrooms or the historic Colonels quarters? Are they told to live off base?
Schools: Do the children of these civilian families attend the DoD elementary school and Child Development Centers on base? These schools are often over crowded as it is, and the wait lists for military children can run years on certain posts.
Common amenities: Civilian access to base amenities such as gyms, commissaries, swimming pools, parks, libraries, churches etc, is also vague according to my colleagues. The commissary always asks for ID when you check out, but does the neighborhood pool ask for an ID? Does the gym on Fort Hood ask for an ID upon entry? These amenities are provided for the warfighter that makes 23,000.00 a year…it is part of their supplemental benefit package…earned benefits…these amenities are NOT extra.
Section 8 requirements: This is perhaps the shadiest part of this whole bad deal. Section 8 Housing (HUD) is required to be offered to civilians in these federally owned areas. In other words, families who qualify for Section 8 housing are allowed to live in these privately owned base houses by law. I saw this first hand on Fort Ord, a once beautiful sea side California base. Due to privatization of base housing, many homes on Fort Ord, are boarded up, abandoned, vacant, grafitti on the walls. One of the perks of a soldier going to Fort Ord was to live in a gorgeous place in our country that he could never afford to live. Currently Fort Ord is, in my opinion a dangerous and unkempt neighborhood…better to live in the nearby off-post community of Sea Side or Pacific Grove.
Maybe I am missing something here…I genuinely ask for our reader’s opinion or first hand experience on this new development. The only upside I see to this new base housing reality is that our civilian counterparts interact with us more, and us with them. This might work to bridge a bit of the civilian military divide. But really the downs greatly outweigh the ups.
A senior NCO deserves that corner lot with four bedrooms and that Colonel deserves to entertain the Mayor of the nearby town in that historic stone mansion on Fort Riley. Our American society has certain places that are reserved for certain demographics. Elderly Americans elect to live in communities that do not allow young families for a reason, and United States Soldiers elect to live with their own for good reason…we need our brothers and sisters in arms around us, we need to be able to talk to our neighbors about our very unique lives, and we deserve safe, gated, and clean areas to live and to raise our families, that on average, move every 18 months.