Military housing is improving-at least according to a report in the Wall Street Journal this week.
The U.S. military is in the midst of a $7 billion campaign to rebuild and refurbish military housing. A law passed in 1996 took the issue away from the military and gave it to the private sector. About 30,000 of the 360,000 military housing units have been privatized and about 6000 have been renovated. The number of privatized housing units will grow to 100,000 by the end of 2004.
More than 60% of the military’s on-base housing is substandard. It’s not just that many of them are unattractive (although they are), they leak, are too small and have cracked windows. But most bases have a long waiting list anyway because the housing is much more economical than getting a house on the economy (off the base).
Better housing also means a higher retention rate. In fact, the increase in the retention rate can be as high as 15%–a large number for an organization filled with volunteers.
There are several reasons why turning the housing over to the private sector has worked better. One is the government budget cycle. There was no authorization to take out loans to make repairs or renovate housing. The work was done on a piecemeal basis after the budget was approved. With the infusion of private capital, an entire base can be done at one time which makes the work faster and less expensive.
At Fort Hood, Texas, for example, all housing units will have been replaced or renovated by 2009. It would have taken until 2031 to do the same work under the previous system.
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