Live on Base or off Base? Frequently Asked Questions About Military Housing
I know how challenging a DoD move to Hawaii with a family can be, since I did it a few years ago myself. I also regularly help military families moving to Hawaii find homes, so I learn from their experiences. A military move to Hawaii can be mind-boggling. It’s an OCONUS post, but still a state, so it seems to fall into a no-man’s land of rules and planning. Trying to decode which parts of the Joint Travel Regulations apply to Hawaii can be an education in itself.
Where are you going to live: on base or off base? Let’s review some frequent questions.
Is Army Base Housing Free?
Housing in the military depends on several factors including rank, marital status, and number of dependents. Military members who are married can either live in on base housing or receive a basic allowance for housing (BAH) to live off base. If you are single, you live on base until you reach a certain rank. To live on base, you are giving the entirety of your BAH to live in military housing. Most likely, all utilities are covered as well.
Can Civilians Enter a Military Base?
To enter a military base as a civilian, you will need to have a military member excort you, or you need to visit the visitor center. Make sure you have legal photo ID such as a passport or driver’s license when going on base.
Can Army Civilians Live on Base?
Another common question is whether or not civilians can live on base. In some cases, if there are not enough military members or their families to occupy all base housing, the housing company may open it up to civilians. This scenario does not happen all that often. If you are a military spouse or dependent, however, you are allowed to live on base.
Do You Pay Utilities When Living on Military Base?
Living on base, your utilities are typically covered. Unless you go over the average energy usage for your housing, you shouldn’t have to pay anything. If you do go over the allotted energy usage, you will have to pay the amount you went over. As long as you stay under this limit, you can save a lot of money on utilities compared to off base housing.
Can You Get BAH if You Live On Base?
Every military service member is given a basic allowance for housing, which they can choose to use for on base housing or towards off base housing. Keep in mind that off base housing, depending on your location, will vary and is generally more expensive than living on base.
The Argument for Living on a Military Base
If you just can’t bear to be in a car for more than 10 minutes, military housing on base is for you. Nowhere on Oahu will be as short a commute as on post.
If you’ve lived in a military base before, you’ll find that the rules for living on a base in Hawaii are very similar. Commissary, BX, gas station, school, post office, parade field, flagpoles, and neat rows of buildings where no one walks on the grass, let alone parks a car on it. “Reville” in the morning and “Taps” in the evening. I get it. With the exception of the little beach on Hickam, at any post on Oahu you may as well be at Ft. Sill.
The style of army base housing you’ll find in Schofield Barracks will feel familiar also. Most of army housing was built of similar quality to the last post you came from – no bells and whistles, but probably clean and functional. Some housing is newer, a result of the BRAC money, and some is older and due for rehab. There are plenty of websites where you can check out the army base housing – such as the Island Palm site, the base websites, or the Facebook group “Moving House for the Military Spouse,” which has user photos of military base housing worldwide.
Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) Housing Kaneohe
Living on a military base also offers the familiar social scene…and you know what I mean. Everyone’s in the same boat, speaks the same language, has kids that are skilled at making new friends, and have never met a doorbell or a fence in their life. If you want to jump into a ready-made community, it’s available.
No commitments. At the end of the day, living on a military base is just like paying rent. You’ll give up your BAH to a landlord – Island Palm, Hickam Communities, or Forest City. You’ll often pay your share of utilities, you’ll call someone to fix things that break, and you’ll de-personalize and paint the walls back to white for your move-out inspection. You’ll leave in three years and it’ll be like you were never here.
The Argument For Living Off Base in the Military
It’s nice to get away from work once in a while (or often). In Hawaii, that’s particularly easy to do. Drive off base and head to a beach, or off on a quick hike, or into town for umbrella drinks at a resort. Heading home can be very relaxing if you live away from work. Pass by waterfalls on the way from Hickam to Kaneohe. Exit the tunnels of the Ko’olau Mountains facing a spectacular view of Kaneohe Bay. The office you left behind may as well be on another planet. Get away in a way you never really do when you live on a military base.
You’re most definitely welcome here. People moving to Oahu often wonder if they’ll fit in or feel welcome if they live out “in town.” Oahu is absolutely a melting pot of cultures and languages, which is often more a source of comedy than tension. And Hawaii has a history of imperialism and capitalism that has left some hard feelings.
However, the military community and the defense industry are an integral part of this island’s culture, lifestyle, and economy, and have overwhelming community support. You can’t go anywhere on Oahu without seeing military stickers on cars, service members in uniform, or being offered a military discount. So, yes, you’re welcome here.
Endless options. Let’s face it, a lot of military families are not coming to Hawaii by choice. And while I understand Ft. Bliss summers or Ft. Drum winters may be more attractive options (???), Hawaii will be what you make of it. So, you may as well try it!
When you decide to live in military housing off base, you will feel like you live in Hawaii. Maybe you’ll be able to afford to live within walking distance of the beach, or you’ll be able to look out at the ocean from your lanai, or you’ll have a great hiking trail or golf course nearby, or meet a neighbor and trade your avocados for their papaya, or find a great sushi spot right outside your condo. There are so many military housing options if you’re open to them.
Off base you’ll have the option of renting or buying a home. There are many factors to weigh, but the primary difference is financial. With a VA loan, you can purchase a home putting nearly no money out of pocket, and your BAH is then put toward paying down your mortgage. This means you’re paying yourself instead of paying a landlord, and as the market improves, your home is also gaining in value.
Bottom Line About Military Housing
You’ll have plenty of opportunities in a military career to live on base, and I absolutely understand the tendency to play it safe. But, I would highly encourage you to get out there and try something new, experience this place fully, and embrace your time in Hawaii. You may even fall in love with it and choose to extend your tour or return for retirement.
Hickam Air Force Base Housing
As a side note, planning ahead for which military housing you’ll be offered seems to be pretty fruitless. In the summer months, housing is in high demand – wait lists are long, but they turn over quickly if you’re willing to be open to various locations and put your name on several waiting lists.
Let’s face it, given the options, everyone who is eligible would choose to live on Hickam AFB. Hickam housing is nicer, it’s centrally located to both the city and most duty locations, and it has a beach, so if you’re a lower priority applicant, count on a longer wait. I recently worked with the family of a non-Air Force O-6 who showed up expecting to live on Hickam, but was told it would be a 6-12 month wait. And in the meantime…good luck was all they were offered.
Now that you’ve decided to live in military housing off base, the question becomes to rent or to buy?
*This blog is not definitive and represents my personal opinions and experiences. To make the blog more readable, I use the words “base” and “post” interchangeably in this article.