Once you get orders to a new location, one of the first things military families have to decide is whether to live on or off the installation. We have posted previously about the pros and cons of each option, so there is no ‘best answer.’ Instead, it all depends on factors like the duty station, your family size, children’s school needs, the service member’s rank, and the number of pets in your household. The last thing you want to deal with is military housing waitlists!
Make Your Housing Decision as Quickly as Possible
Ideally, families should decide on their housing situation as soon as possible, even before they arrive at their next duty station. There are several important reasons why you should decide early whether to live on or off the installation:
- Your PCS orders will provide a per diem allowance called TLE (Temporary Lodging Expense) for the first 10 days so you can stay in the installation hotel or get reimbursed for temporary housing expenses while looking for housing. But often it takes longer than that to visit neighborhoods, check out properties, and get your paperwork completed. The sooner you start, the better.
- If you have children, you will want to limit the amount of time your entire family is cooped up in one hotel room.
- Your first few weeks of checking in and getting settled will be busy enough. It’s easier if you have already done the research and made a housing decision.
- The number one reason to decide on housing as soon as possible: because most installations have a waitlist for housing!
What You Need to Know about Military Housing Waitlists
The bad news about military housing waitlists is that they can be long—sometimes six months to a year! The good news is that you can get onto the waitlist before you arrive. In most cases, your place on the list will be dated to the day you detach from one duty station, not the day the service member reports to a new unit. Some people take weeks of leave in between stations to travel or visit family. That time off counts as time on the waitlist, as long as you have already applied.
The important question is: how do you get on the waitlist for military housing? The answer is that it varies for different installations and branches.
The first step after deciding to live on the installation and researching neighborhoods is to call the housing office, or for the neighborhood where you want to move. It is the family’s responsibility to research the neighborhoods, learn about school locations, determine the distance to the service member’s workplace, and study the different floor plan options. When you have a few options, call the housing office and ask about the waitlist times for those neighborhoods. They may be able to assign you a house immediately in one neighborhood, while a different neighborhood would require you to wait a year!
To be formally placed on a waiting list, you must complete a housing application and submit it to the housing management company. Some installations allow you to submit an application before you move, as long as you have orders. Others require that you be in the area to make an application. That’s why it’s important to call early to discuss your options.
Documents You Need to Apply for Military Housing Waitlists
- Housing application
- Copy of orders
- Page listing dependents (varies per branch)
- Record of Emergency Data
- Current Leave and Earning Statement (LES)
- Military ID
In special situations, you may also be asked to provide:
- Physician statement of pregnancy, if you are counting a baby as a dependent
- Shared custody statements for dependent children, if applicable
- EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program) paperwork
- Power of Attorney, if service member is not present
Once the housing office verifies the service member’s rank and number of dependents, they will tell you which neighborhoods or layouts your family is eligible to use. At some locations, you may simultaneously be on a list for two different neighborhoods. Ask up front if this is possible.
There is an acceptance process when a home becomes available. You can turn down a home, but sometimes that moves your name further down the list. Once you accept and sign the lease, you can move in, and housing will claim your BAH.
Can You Speed Up the Housing Application Process?
At Navy installations, you can move the housing application along if you complete a HEAT (Housing Early Assistance Tool) form. The HEAT form does not put you on a waitlist, but it does allow you to complete a housing application in advance, before you move. A service member moving to a Navy base (does not have to be Navy personnel) should fill out a HEAT form as soon as they decide to live on base housing. They don’t even need official orders to that station before completing the HEAT form. You can fill it out for multiple bases while waiting for orders! This gives you a jump start on the paperwork so your application will be processed faster.
The HEAT form is not available at bases run by the Army or Air Force, and there does not currently seem to be an equivalent form for those branches.
There are some circumstances that move those who are part of EFMP to the top of the waitlist for accessible housing, which is why you will need to provide the required paperwork.