Magazine article Soldiers Magazine

Military Housing: Civilian Style: Are You Ready for New Digs?

Magazine article Soldiers Magazine

Military Housing: Civilian Style: Are You Ready for New Digs?

Article excerpt

MOST Soldiers have learned not to be picky about on-post housing, but some have recently discovered that the choices open to them are increasing. Favor one floor plan over another? Want to choose your neighbors or reside close to jogging trails? Go right ahead.

"We want Soldiers and their families to be happy about their living arrangements. Their wants matter to us," said Don Spigelmyer, director of the Residential Communities Initiative program.

The Military Housing Privatization Initiative Act lets the Army build partnerships with private-sector developers that have the money and mastery to manage and improve family housing. The result: better living conditions for Soldiers and their families.

"This is the best thing that's happened to family housing in the history of the military," Spigelmyer said. "No longer do we have to depend on unpredictable funding to repair and replace housing units."

The RCI program currently includes 84 percent of Army housing, or almost 71,000 housing units, at 34 installations--all slated for privatization by 2007. Soldiers and families are already settling into new homes built on such posts as Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Meade, Md.

Features of new housing include expanded living and storage areas, rooms that accommodate modern furniture, and neighborhoods with on-site maintenance teams and recreational facilities.

"I'm really impressed with our new house and the community it's in," said SGT Derwin Kitt, who moved into new housing at Fort Meade with his wife and three children last summer. "It's definitely a step above anything I've lived in before."

The Army takes a back seat in the RCI partnership, although it stays involved in major decisions. Developers maintain daily operations for their 50-year property leases.

Spigelmyer said the arrangement is working well so far. Soldiers and families get housing at private-sector standards, the Army gets world-class work, and developers get involved with the nation's military.

Changing for the Better

At the time Congress passed the housing-privatization legislation, 70 percent of the Army's inventory was inadequate, Spigelmyer said.

"We had a $7 billion backlog in maintenance and repair, and that's a conservative estimate. There was no way we were ever going to get that amount of money through appropriated funding," he said.

Developers' main source of revenue for building and construction is Soldiers' rent, which comes from the Basic Allowance for Housing. When construction is complete, developers place a portion of the Soldiers' BAH in interest-bearing accounts for future repairs and maintenance.

"Houses we renovate now will probably need to be replaced in 10 or 15 years, and the houses being built now will need renovations by then. The goal is to place housing on a sustainable basis," Spigelmyer said.

As Soldiers become accustomed to paying rent, developers will be pushed to satisfy customers. After all, Soldiers who aren't happy with on-post housing are free to take their BAH to off-post neighborhoods.

Most new construction so far has been on town homes for junior-enlisted Soldiers. And renovations on previously existing homes have been equally as popular as the new units, said Ivan Bolden, RCI's program manager for policy.

"Renovated quarters at Fort Hood, for example, are more popular than the new versions. …

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