For members of the U.S. military, housing assistance is one of the most significant benefits they can receive. For exmaple, when a base offers housing in remote stations military housing provides the kind of stable community that civilian housing may not. In crowded regions like California, on the other hand, on-base housing can offer military personnel options that they otherwise couldn’t afford. For these reasons, retirees might be looking to continue those housing benefits but aren’t sure what to do. The government does offer housing options for military retirees, and here’s how it works.
Military Housing Overview
Military housing has long been considered one of the best benefits and reasons that many people end up enlisting or making a career out of military employment. These housing options typically can come from living on a military base where you are stationed or by utilizing private sector housing, where you’ll receive a monthly housing allowance.
Members of the military who are stationed on a U.S. base have two housing options:
1. The Military Housing Allowance
The Department of Defense increasingly prefers this option because they can utilize private sector housing instead of trying to find space for everyone on bases alone. Under the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), service members assigned to a domestic base receive a monthly allowance to help pay for housing near their station.
The rate is calculated based on three main factors: the local cost of rent and utilities; the individual service member’s pay grade; and whether the service member has dependents. Someone who wants to live off base will receive this BAH stipend to help cover either their rent or mortgage. Combined with generous military mortgage assistance, the BAH has contributed to a significant increase in homeownership among service members.
2. On-Base Housing
Military members can also qualify for housing directly on the base. Most civilians who imagine life on a military base will likely picture the barracks out of a World War II movie, and obviously the military still uses some barracks. However as bases grew into vast, permanent institutions across the U.S. their housing options grew with them. For decades bases have offered houses and condominium-style homes that would fit into any suburban neighborhood.
Personnel can qualify for on-base housing through a number of factors, including pay grade, availability of housing and whether they have dependents. Among qualifying applicants, a base will award housing priority based on factors including marital status, pay grade and date of assignment to the given base. For more detailed information, see this report from the Department of Defense.
Generally speaking, the DoD gives higher priority to married personnel and those with families. As a general rule, single personnel are unlikely (if ever) to qualify for on-base housing aside from barracks and dormitory-style options.
Competition for on-base housing has shifted as the military has increasingly emphasized its private housing allowance. Today, some bases remain intensely competitive with waiting lists for incoming personnel. Others have trouble filling their existing housing, so much so that they will rent on-base housing to local civilians.
Personnel who live in on-base housing do not receive a BAH.
All of this leads back to the original question: Once you have retired from the military can you still qualify for housing? Let’s take a look at how each of the two options now work if you’re retired.
- The Military Housing Allowance: After retiring, you will no longer receive a Basic Allowance for Housing. Military retirement pensions are calculated using base pay and do not incorporate benefits such as the BAH.
- Access to On-Base Housing: Military retirees can apply for on-base housing, but restrictions apply. Most importantly, the base must have a surplus of housing beyond the needs of active duty personnel. The Department of Defense first awards housing to servicemen and women who have been assigned to this location. If afterward, the base still has unclaimed homes, it might open up the application process to “Other Eligible Tenants.” Not every base opens surplus housing up to the civilian market, but many do.As a veteran and retiree, you are now a civilian and will have to apply during the same process as other eligible tenants. You will receive priority over most other civilian applicants; however, you will have to wait in line behind applicants such as active civilian personnel and active national guard families.
Veterans Affairs Home Loans
The VA also offers several programs to make home loans more accessible to veterans, which can be an alternative to finding and qualifying for military housing.The most common option involves the VA’s low-cost, low (or no) down payment mortgages. Through this program the VA helps veterans secure home loans below market rates.
The agency also runs what are known as adapted housing grants. These help veterans with disabilities to purchase adapted housing or modify their current housing around their needs. These programs have their own eligibility requirements, so the details will vary based on personal finances, length of service and nature of service. Buying a house can be one of the best investments you ever make and these loans can be a helpful tool to get you there.
Senior-Living Communities for Military Retirees
There are a few communities for seniors with large numbers of residents who used to serve in the military. This is mostly due to their location because they are typically close to military hospitals, VA hospitals or military bases. Most are open to the public but are primarily made up of ex-military because of how close they are to needed military services.
Additionally, there are a number of resident communities that were started by nonprofits to provide help for those who served in the military, many are primarily for ex-officers, their spouses, or surviving spouses who haven’t remarried. Some examples of these include:
- Falcons Landing: Located in Washington D.C.
- Air Force Village West: Located in Riverside, CA
- The Air Force Villages: Located in San Antonio, TX
There are more, many of which are located at or near Washington D.C. and each may have their own requirements for who qualifies to live there.
The Bottom Line
If you’re a veteran and want to secure military housing, it is possible. After retiring from the military, you can no longer receive the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), but you can apply for on-base housing. To accommodate you, a base will need to have a surplus of housing that exceeds the needs of active duty personnel. Should that be the case, as a vet, you will have priority for a spot over civilian candidates but will be behind active civilian personnel and and active national guard families. You can also look into VA loan programs for veterans.
Tips for Retirement Planning
- Determining where you should live after your service can be quite complicated, as can navigating military retirement plans, but you don’t need to go it alone. A financial advisor can help you make the best decisions regarding matters like TSP funds and deciding when the right time to retire from the service can be. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- If you’re a veteran looking to transition into civilian life, some places may be more comfortable than others. Check out our study on the best states for veterans.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/artisteer, ©iStock.com/asiseeit, ©iStock.com/Bill Chizek