Active duty soldiers and their families are entitled to healthy, safe housing to live in. An entitlement in the Army is something that must be provided and may not be taken away without due process. In the case of housing, soldiers live in government furnished quarters in exchange for their BAH, or they keep their BAH to pay rent for civilian (off-post) housing. Government housing and BAH directly result from the Constitution. The third amendment of the Constitution forbids the government from quartering soldiers in housing without the owner’s consent, so the government provides quarters or a housing allowance (BAH) to all active duty soldiers.
Government quarters are safe, maintained, and adequate for soldiers’ needs. In some cases, because of great need, some government housing remains in use past its expected useful life. Installations continue to maintain these quarters and they are still safe to live in. In those unusual cases where soldiers reside in inadequate government furnished quarters, they receive a portion of BAH to compensate for the inconvenience. The standard of what is considered adequate quarters is in Chapter 4 of AR 210-50, Housing Management. Many commands or installations have supplements to AR 210-50 that further define adequate and inadequate quarters. The standards of adequacy generally are qualitative in nature and assess the size, configuration, and safety of the housing as well as its condition, services, and amenities.
The Army owes decent housing to every active duty soldier and family. But living in government quarters come with responsibilities, such as following rules on appearance and use. For example, you may have to keep your grass cut to a certain length, or there may be limitations on when and how many lights you can put up for Christmas. These rules aren’t intended to be a nuisance or a restriction of freedom. They are intended to help maintain a safe and pleasant environment for all soldiers and their families. Such rules are similar to those in civilian homeowners’ associations, for example.
Army installations have a system in place to assign soldiers and their families housing, maintain that housing, and to help soldiers leave those quarters upon reassignment. In cases where quarters are not available or the soldier (SFC and above) elects to live off-post, Army installations provide assistance in finding good housing in the civilian community. Living in government housing is an excellent value. In most locations, the BAH a soldier receives to pay for civilian housing does not cover the full cost of that housing-rent or mortgage, electricity, water and sewer, maintenance, etc. On the other hand, living in government housing prevents you from receiving BAH, but you won’t have any of those bills (although telephone, internet access, and cable TV services are your responsibility to pay). You can often obtain supplies and hardware for the maintenance of your quarters at no cost to you from self-help stores on the installation.
Few installations have enough housing units to accommodate every soldier and family assigned there. That is why you will often have to wait to get into government-furnished quarters. Installations have waiting lists that show every soldier and family who have requested government quarters. Your name is put on the list as of the day you sign in at your new unit. However, an interesting exception is when you return from a dependent-restricted (unaccompanied) overseas tour. At that time, you may be put on the list as of the day you departed your previous duty station for the unaccompanied tour, for a maximum 14-month credit. Watch out though: any voluntary extensions negate this credit.
Basic Allowance For Housing (BAH)
Some soldiers receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). This taxfree monthly allowance goes to stateside servicemembers who cannot get into government quarters or who choose to live off base. For most soldiers, BAH is the second-largest part of their compensation. Allowances are based on rank, dependent status, and location.
The rates are calculated by surveying the civilian housing market in 370 locations across the United States. For example, BAH with dependents rates for senior enlisted members and officers are set by canvassing the rental costs of three and four-bedroom single-family homes in neighborhoods where the typical civilian income is $60,000 to $100,000 per year. For the BAH without dependents rate for junior enlisted personnel the survey focuses on one-bedroom apartments in neighborhoods where the typical civilian earns $20,000 to $30,000 per year.
Different types of BAH are available. There is an allowance for soldiers on active duty (BAH-I) including RC soldiers on active duty, a BAH for RC soldiers on active duty for less than 140 days (BAH-II), and a partial rate BAH. As with all pay and allowances, you can find current rates on the DFAS website. With BAH-I, you may receive a “with-dependents” rate or “without-dependents” rate.
- The “with-dependents” rate goes to soldiers with at least one family member who meets the official definition of a dependent. The allowance does not increase with additional family members.
- If a husband and wife both are on active duty and have a child, the higher-ranking spouse receives BAH at the “with-dependents” rate. The other spouse receives BAH at the “without-dependents” rate.
- The “without-dependents” rate is for single people with no family members living with them. Dual military couples without children both receive BAH at the without-dependents rate.
- BAH-Differential (BAH-DIFF) is for soldiers paying child support and not receiving BAH at the “with dependent rate.” To receive BAHDIFF, the soldier’s child support payment must equal or exceed the amount of the BAH-DIFF.
- Reserve component soldiers on active duty for fewer than 140 days are entitled to the monthly BAH-II. For BAH-II there is a married rate and a single rate.
- A soldier without dependents is authorized partial BAH (Rebate) when assigned to single-type government quarters (barracks, BOQ, BEQ) or when residing off post without a statement of nonavailability.
The actual amount a soldier pays “out-of-pocket” depends on the housing choices he makes. Thrifty soldiers can keep all the BAH due them even if their housing costs are less than their allowance. Those who choose a bigger or more expensive residence than the typical soldier in their pay grade will find that their out-of-pocket costs are higher.
Most soldiers stationed overseas who live off base receive an overseas housing allowance (OHA). While OCONUS soldiers receive OHA for the same pupose that CONUS soldiers receive BAH, OHA varies each month with currency exchange rates. Personnel assigned to unaccompanied tours overseas can collect BAH if their families live off base in the United States. In unusual cases, service secretaries can declare a tour within the United States as unaccompanied. For example, if a child is seriously ill and needs to remain near a medical center, the family can continue to receive a housing allowance in that location after the soldier has moved to another assignment.