Choosing Military Housing: On-Base vs. Off-Base Living Decision

Choosing Military Housing: On-Base vs. Off-Base Living Decision

If a service member chooses to live on base, and the housing is owned by the government, they do not need to pay rent as the property is managed by the Department of Defense. However, if the base housing is privatized, then the service member has to pay rent and utilities by receiving the Basic Allowance for Housing in their paycheck. On the other hand, if a service member decides to live off base, the government will pay up to a certain amount for their housing. This offers the service member the freedom and flexibility to choose the type of home and location they prefer. But, it's important to note that the government doesn't cover the costs of homeownership, such as property taxes or insurance. In the case of service members living overseas, they still receive a monthly utility allowance; however, there's no default set amount for the rent money.


Military service entails significant challenges, demanding personal sacrifices from those who volunteer. In return, the government provides distinctive advantages, with a significant benefit being financial assistance for housing expenses. However, the process is nuanced and not as straightforward as it may appear.

Contrary to the misconception held by some civilians unfamiliar with military life, not everyone resides on base. Except for specific areas, service members can choose to rent or purchase housing off the installation within the local economy. Each alternative presents its own advantages and disadvantages, and the final decision is largely influenced by individual preferences and budget considerations.

Diverse Military Housing Options

Military housing benefits differ based on your housing type, whether residing on or off base. Living on base may entail government-owned or privatized housing, impacting the financial arrangements.

On-Base Living: Government-Owned vs. Privatized

  • In government-owned on-base housing managed by the Department of Defense, service members avoid rent payments and don't receive the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). Barracks, an option for single or unaccompanied members, are rent-free but may involve shared facilities. Some branches mandate barracks living for certain ranks.
  • Privatized on-base housing, commonly contracted to private companies, involves receiving BAH in your paycheck. This allowance covers rent and utilities, with the private company acting as the landlord.

Off-Base Living

  • Opting to live off base allows flexibility, with the government covering housing expenses up to a specified amount. However, potential challenges arise, including housing availability and additional responsibilities.

Waitlists and Moving Considerations

  • Families facing extended waitlists for base housing may need to reside off-base. If on a waitlist but offered on-base housing, the military covers moving costs. However, expenses for moving off-base or between off-base residences aren't covered.

In planning, remember these guidelines, as security deposits and moving fees can accumulate.

Housing Variances: CONUS vs. OCONUS

Exploring housing options demands an understanding of the distinctions between being stationed in the Continental United States (CONUS) and overseas (OCONUS).

CONUS Housing Dynamics (Paragraph 7-8)

When stationed in CONUS, excluding government-owned base housing, service members receive a monthly Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) based on rank, location, and dependents. This allowance covers rent and utilities, and any surplus can be retained. In cost-effective areas, pocketing the difference is feasible. However, in pricier locales, out-of-pocket expenses may arise. Some opt for homeownership, using VA loans, but note that BAH doesn't encompass homeownership costs like taxes and insurance.

OCONUS Housing Dynamics (Paragraph 9)

Overseas, the system diverges. Service members receive the Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) instead of BAH, determined by pay grade, location, and dependents. Monthly utility/maintenance allowances are provided, but rent isn't a fixed amount. Instead, a monthly rent maximum is set. Military inspections ensure housing meets American standards, with the military reimbursing the exact rent amount up to the OHA maximum. Unlike CONUS, there's no surplus retention, making financial planning crucial for those accustomed to pocketing extra cash.

On-Base Residency: Pros and Cons

Living on base is a subjective experience for military families, with opinions ranging from positive to negative. The availability of housing options and on-base amenities differs significantly between installations, often influencing residents' satisfaction. Yet, lengthy waitlists occasionally make on-base living temporarily unfeasible.


  • Rent is typically not required for government-owned housing.
  • Enhanced safety and proximity to work.
  • Access to on-base amenities and family-friendly facilities.
  • Sense of community and social connections.
  • Potential cost savings, especially in high-priced regions.


  • Limited control over housing type and potential noise concerns.
  • Regular security gate processes for entry and exit.
  • Cultural insulation, limiting authentic local experiences.
  • Housing allocation based on pay grade and family size.
  • Possible issues with privatized housing companies.
  • Noise disturbances from aircraft, gun ranges, or exercises.
  • Restrictions on running a home-based business.

Additional Considerations

  • On-base living may ease short-term assignments.
  • Some utilities and expenses may be covered.
  • Privatized housing is now subject to the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights, providing new protections for military families. Familiarize yourself with these rights to ensure fair treatment.

Off-Base Residency: Pros and Cons

Choosing to live off-base provides a different set of advantages and challenges compared to on-base living. It is a preferred option for those seeking more autonomy and diversity in their housing arrangements.


  • Freedom to select preferred housing type and location.
  • Integration into the local community, particularly beneficial for single and LGBTQ+ service members.
  • Improved work/life balance with a clear separation of personal and professional life.
  • Potential savings and equity-building opportunities when buying property using Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).


  • Obligation to ensure military clause in the lease for legal flexibility with changing assignments.
  • Uncertainty in lease renewal, requiring the search for new rental properties if needed.
  • Possible out-of-pocket expenses, especially in high-cost regions like California.
  • Considerations of currency conversion challenges when renting overseas.

Additional Points

  • OCONUS service members must navigate currency conversion intricacies, impacting cost-of-living adjustments.
  • Potential difficulties in the housing market during assignments, possibly requiring inconvenient property transactions.

Housing Compensation for National Guard and Reserves

The housing compensation structure for National Guard and Reserve members differs due to their part-time service alongside civilian responsibilities.

When activated under Title 10 or Title 32 for 30 days or less, these members receive a specialized housing allowance known as BAH RC/T (Basic Allowance for Housing - Reserve Component/Transient). Unlike standard BAH, BAH RC/T is fixed and not location-dependent, reflecting the average national housing cost. If activation extends beyond 30 days, they become eligible for the regular BAH applicable to full-time service members.


Selecting between on-base and off-base living is a deeply personal choice, influenced by individual preferences, finances, and personality. Each option has its advantages and challenges, with the ultimate decision often dictated by circumstances beyond one's control, a common aspect of military life.

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