Military Housing: Everything You Need to Know

How Does Military Housing Work

Civilians generally have a vague idea of military life. Research shows understanding the military culture and lifestyle is a struggle for those without military experience. Although you constantly hear about the difficulties in transitioning from military to civilian life, one aspect of military life that’s rarely discussed is military housing.

At Empire Resume, we don’t just write military-to-civilian resumes. The knowledge and insight we share stems from first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be in the military because our founder had the privilege of serving as Captain in the United States Air Force.

We’ll describe all you need to know about military housing.

Empire Resume Myth Buster: Military Housing Is Really Not Free

Before we get started, let’s take a moment to debunk the most common myth about military housing.

If you’re like most people, you think the government offers housing for military members and their families, much like the government provides uniforms, employment, and healthcare.

You’re right, it does. But not quite.

Government housing comes with exceptions and most importantly, it comes at a cost. A portion of the member’s pay is reserved for Basic Housing Allowance or BAH to help offset the cost of housing.

Additionally, military housing is not the same for every servicemember due to military rank, location, and family circumstances.

Interested in hearing more about BAH? We invite you to learn more about how military pay works.  

Types of Military Housing

How Does Military Housing Work

Military housing can be described in two categories: on-base housing and off-base housing. We’ve clearly defined each term to help you better understand what each term means.

  • On-base housing: When a military member resides on a military installation.
  • Off-base housing: When a military member lives away from or near a military facility.


Pros and Cons of On-Base Housing vs. Off-Base Housing

Each housing arrangement has pros and cons. For example, on-base housing is like living in a major gated community. It’s safe. It can make life easier for a military member and the family since amenities are close by.

Military facilities have grocery stores, shopping malls and entertainment options such as movie theaters and bowling alleys. Additionally, it saves on gas as the military member does not have to drive far to get to work.

On the other hand, on-base housing may be lacking in the privacy department. Since the military is a community, everyone seems to know everything about each other.

Also, driving on base is much more closely monitored with military police and it’s typically required for you to pull over during reveille (start of the work day) and retreat (end of the work day) to show respect.

Off-base housing has its perks. Members can choose exactly where they want to live and the amenities too. Military members are “free” from military life so to speak. There’s no fear of running into a commanding officer at the store.

Now, let’s talk about on-base housing and the various types service members encounter throughout their military careers.

On-Base Housing

How Does Military Housing Work

Whether a member receives on-base housing varies by rank, location, and family circumstances. However, almost every new enlisted member (and sometimes officers) of the U.S. Armed Forces will start out living on base.

When we say “on-base housing,” we mean barracks, dorms or family homes. Here’s an overview of how base housing works for single and married service members:

  • Single military members

Barracks are usually reserved for single military members. Barracks and dorms usually include bunkbeds and shared bathrooms. As servicemembers advance through the military rank structure, they may be able to choose a better option like a dorm that resembles an apartment.

So, how does this add up in each branch of the military? We’ve got you covered. Check out housing based by the military branch below:

Army and Marine Corps low ranking members usually live in barracks.

In the Air Force, they live in dormitories through the Dorms-4-Airmen program. This program seeks to improve the quality of life for Air Force Airmen and provide more comfort and personal space.

Each Airman receives his or her own room, walk-in closet and private bathroom. The only parts of the dorm all four suitemates share are the furnished living area TV, and a dining area.

Navy Sailors usually live in barracks or on the ship. Same with the Coast Guard. In these situations, lower ranking members of the military won’t receive a housing allowance. Rent and utilities will be taken out of their basic pay.

  • Married military members or those with dependents

How Does Military Housing Work

Active-duty military members who are married or have minor dependents can live on-base, if housing is available. With a dependent, a military member can also choose to reside off-post.

If the member has dependents (spouse, children, or both) he or she will receive a basic housing allowance to help cover the cost of an apartment or a single-family house. Some of the houses have fenced in backyards and some do not. These homes are unfurnished and cable TV is not provided. Often times, pets are allowed.

Members of the Guard or Reserve who have dependents will not receive a housing allowance.

In a situation where a member of a reserve component of the military is called to active duty for less than 30 days, he or she will receive a reduced form of BAH, known as BAH Type II. If the Guard or Reservist is on active duty for 30 days or more, this makes the member eligible to receive full BAH just like active-duty personnel.

On-base military housing varies significantly from military base to military base.

On-Base Housing Complaints

Unfortunately, on-base housing faces complaints and lawsuits due to unsatisfactory living conditions.

In 2019, a survey by the Military Family Advisory Network revealed that 55% of families gave a negative review of on base housing. Property managers are being sued for neglect and lack of home maintenance, according to news sources. This leads to some members striving for off-base housing.

The good news is, the government is making efforts to improve base housing. For example, the Government Accountability Office March 2020 Report is calling for the DoD to strengthen its oversight and role in military housing. 

Off-Base Housing

How Does Military Housing Work

Since you now know military members with dependents can live off-base, the confusion with off-base housing begins with unaccompanied or single military members.

Living off base is typically not an option until members reach the enlisted rank of E-4, which is equal to an assistant team lead or assistant manager in the civilian world.

Here’s a breakdown of each branch’s rank policy for living off base while single:

  • Army: E-6 and above with E-5s on certain bases
  • Air Force: E-4 and above with over 3 years of service
  • Navy: E-5 and above and E-4s with more than 4 years of service
  • Marine Corps: E-6 and above. E-4s and E-5s are allowed, depending on the base

To locate housing themselves, many military members rely on the Automated Housing Referral Network or AHRN to find homes, apartments, complexes, and condos.

But what about the difference between enlisted and officers? Let’s explore the differences between enlisted and officer housing.

Housing by Military Rank: Enlisted v. Officer

Below is the simplest way to remember the differences between enlisted and officer military members when it comes to housing:

  • Married enlisted service members may live in government housing on base, depending on the availability.

How Does Military Housing Work

  • Married high-ranking officers have the option to live on base in military family housing, if they wish.

It is important to note that the size of the living quarters for officers and enlisted start out small but increase based on rank.

Always remember, each military installation will differ with housing. On one post, a base commander like a colonel may live in a large military home. On other installations, you may see enlisted and officers with families living in the same area or right next to each other.

Privatized Military Housing for Civilians

 Did you know that the general public can live on-base, including you? This is a great option for DoD civilians who want to live closer to work.

This is made possible by the Military Housing Privatization Initiative. The Department of Defense says that when the number of vacant homes on any military installation reaches a certain level, the contractor can rent them out to anyone it likes.

This type of housing is managed by private landlords. Service members and civilians are required to sign a lease agreement typically for a one-year term. The lease must will include a clause from the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act that allows a military member to cancel the lease if they move due to military service.

To qualify for privatized military housing, a civilian must pay for a credit and background check for every adult living in the home. Proof of employment and income must be provided on top of a security deposit.

Keep in mind, this program is only offered on some military bases. Check with the local Military Housing Office for more information.

Your Thoughts on Military Housing

How Does Military Housing Work

Have you heard anything else about military housing? Any updates on housing for members serving in the U.S. Space Force? Share your comments below! Be sure to bookmark our blog so you can come back next week for more about the military, veteran, and the military-to-civilian transition.

If you’re on the job hunt, contact Empire Resume at 801-690-4085 or email We’ve helped thousands of people get the job they deserve with our resume writing services and we know we can do the same for you. Satisfaction guaranteed!

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for service-members transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.

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4 thoughts on “Military Housing: Everything You Need to Know

  1. Military members usually do not need to worry about housing. There are plenty of options, including living on base in barracks or family housing, or off base with basic housing allowance (BAH). The luxury of choosing comes with higher ranks.

  2. The biggest mistake was allowing private companies to manage housing. I lived in on post housing as a kid before privatization, and it was maintained without problems.

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