Military Housing: Slum or Divorce Asset?

Slum housing in third world country.

Military Housing Depicted as Slum

This month has not been good for the image of military housing. Recently, the Military Family Advisory Network released a report to Congress, Living Conditions of Families in Privatized Military Housing, complete with photos and real-world examples, which depicted on-post housing as being slum-like.

Based upon almost 17,000 responses in a one-week period, the news was grim:

  • More than half of the respondents had negative experiences with military family housing.
  • Some pretty disgusting conditions were reported, including lead paint, black mold, vermin, insects (bed bugs, roaches, etc).
  • Family complaints about sub-standard conditions go unanswered, and result in attempts to silence them.

The media, pounced on the story. The headline in the Washington Post was ‘This is disgusting:’ Lawmakers blast companies overseeing military homes racked by toxic dangers, and the one in Stars & Stripes was even worse: Black mold, rats and lead: Survey of military families paints slum-like picture of housing on US bases

Politicians were swift to jump in. using terms such as “shocking” and “disgusting.” Responses from military leaders were more muted, but still negative, with the Army Chief of Staff saying he was “deeply troubled.”

Privatized Base Housing to Blame?

The complaints are not new, just the target of the ire. In 1996, the military embarked on a privatized housing initiative specifically to make military housing more cost-effective, and in response to a system where military families were helpless in the face of poor conditions.

Privatized housing was supposed to operate like commercial housing, where landlords would build better units, and be responsive to tenant complaints. If the stories in the survey are typical, then it appears that the military has a ways to go.

CAVEAT. The survey was not random, but included feedback only from respondents with something to say – a self-selection bias renders it dubious from a statistical perspective. So while the families concerned have legitimate concerns, and the conditions depicted are real and should be addressed, the survey is anecdotal, and does not support a conclusion that most military housing is substandard. And in case it’s not obvious, the image at the top of this blog is most assuredly not military housing, but was picked for artistic effect.

Military Base Housing vs Off-Post Housing

Military housing offers advantages – a short commute, families are surrounded by other families of similar ages and experiences, probably with kids of similar ages, and military members avoid the hassles of buying/selling homes, or trying to rent each time they PCS.

But no one would ever mistake military housing for luxury – in short, it’s nowhere near as nice as even average military housing. When I was a brand-new, single JAG lieutenant at Fort Hood, Texas, my off-post residence in Harker Heights was better than the field-grade housing on post.

And while stationed at Fort Carson, as a young (OK, youngish) captain, my house in Cheyenne Meadows was about twice the size and nicer, than the on-post “Colonel’s Row” house provided to our Staff Judge Advocate, a full-bird colonel. Of course, he could walk to work and didn’t have to mix with lowly company-grade officers while mowing his lawn…

Military Housing in a Divorce

Reading the “slum” articles induced me to look into the effects of military housing in a divorce. The Military Divorce Guide already had a comprehensive article which discusses how Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) was treated in a divorce, so an article on those military members who live on-post was a logical corollary.

The result? The all-new Military Base Housing in a Divorce article in the Military Divorce Guide, which discusses who gets to live in the house during divorce (not necessarily the service member), who gets it after the divorce (not the civilian former spouse), and how free housing is treated for purposes of alimony and child support (the value of the housing is imputed to the military member as income).

In short, while military housing is not a slum, and while it’s not an asset a court can divide in a divorce, the right to live there while the divorce is pending is valuable.

How Many Bedrooms in a Military House?

Today’s trivia: ever wonder how the military figures out how many bedrooms a military family is allowed to have? DoD 4165.63-M, DOD Manual on Housing Management, Enclosure 3, para. 1.d.(4) outlines bedroom requirements. Installation commanders are supposed to make an effort to give each dependent his/her own bedroom, with these guidelines:

  • A child over 10 is entitled to his/her own bedroom.
  • Two children of the same sex under 10 may share a bedroom.
  • Two children of the opposite sex under 6 may share a bedroom.

The military also has square footage requirements for its housing, depending upon rank and number of dependents.

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