• November 26, 2014

Fort Hood housing offers security, sense of community

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Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014 4:30 am

In an area filled with countless housing options and new neighborhoods popping up, deciding where to sign a lease can be a conundrum.

Several Fort Hood residents said they are willing to give up the plethora of options that come with civilian living for additional security, savings and a strong sense of community.

The Cromwells lived in Killeen for a year before moving on post seven months ago, citing property management issues and high rent as the motivating factors in relocating.

Like all Army families, they were given the option of moving on post when they were stationed at Fort Hood, an installation that offers housing to married soldiers of all ranks. The family now lives in Montague Village on West Fort Hood, a community separate from the main post with an array of home sizes and styles.

“(Living off post) was an awful experience,” Kara Cromwell said. “The shower leaked, and it caused mold in the walls. (The realty company) refused to fix the issue, and we ended up living with mold in our walls for eight months.”

She eventually discovered the homeowner was never notified of the problem.

“We were also paying $300 over our (basic allowance for housing) amount when we added up rent, electricity, water and trash, so financially it became a strain as well,” Cromwell said.

How it works

Army families receive a basic allowance for housing determined by the service member’s rank and number of dependents. With on-post housing, the entire allowance is taken as “rent,” which includes utilities and 24-hour on-call

maintenance services.

While some families find they can use the housing allowance to pay rent off-post and still result in savings, many find utilities, including electricity, water and trash removal, add up to more than the allotted amount.

Fort Hood residents pay nothing above their housing allowance, unless their electricity bill surpasses the baseline set by their neighborhood.

Moving on post does not require a deposit or multiple months’ rent down. This savings concern is especially important as the Cromwell family prepares to welcome a fourth child this year.

Ultimately, money was the No. 1 factor behind the Cromwells move to Fort Hood.

“We could not afford a four or five bedroom off post with the BAH for our rank,” Cromwell said. “Rental prices range from $1,200 to $1,500 for those size houses in a good neighborhood.”

Their new house in Montague Village is “very spacious,” Cromwell said. Her only complaint is the “hospital-tile flooring,” but the money they save each month outweighs that minor annoyance.

Good fit

Viola Harrison and her husband, Sgt. Donald Harrison, 1st Cavalry Division, enjoy their home in Pershing Park, a three-bedroom structure with walls covered in framed prints of famous city skylines. Its floor plan and spacious backyard are a good fit for the couple and their 19-month-old son, Benjamin, and two dogs, who moved to Fort Hood in September. This is their second on-post housing experience, after living in Germany.

“I love that we live on post but off, too,” Viola Harrison said of her neighborhood, which is in a housing community not connected to the main installation. “He’s close to work but not too close.”

Next week, new fences will be installed at their home, on the Army’s dime.

“It’s calm here,” she said. “You only hear good things about Pershing Park.”

Vacancies

Despite many satisfied residents, Fort Hood housing is not maintaining its typical capacity rate.

“We are at about 93 percent full right now,” said Marvin Williams, director of property management with Fort Hood Family Housing. The rate usually hovers closer to 100 percent. Family housing is operated by Lend Lease, an international firm based in Sydney, Australia. It oversees housing on more than 10 Army posts and is in the process of developing hotel facilities on nearly 40 installations.

Lend Lease has been operating housing at Fort Hood for 12 years, following the Army’s move to privatize family housing in the late 1990s. The company will continue its housing project with Fort Hood until 2051.

Of its 6,418 homes, currently 496 are vacant, Williams said, though the number changes every day.

Col. Matthew G. Elledge, Fort Hood’s garrison commander, credited the shifting numbers to military drawdowns, leading to fluctuating population sizes on military posts nationwide.

“There are peaks and valleys as we go in and out of combat,” Elledge said, referring to Fort Hood’s population. “The Army is transforming.”

Though Fort Hood is expected to decrease by nearly 3,000 soldiers in the next four years, Elledge cited the “plethora of housing (available) off post,” as a possible factor behind the number of open units at this time.

Waitlist for some Homes

Given the constantly changing needs of the Army, Williams doesn’t find these numbers surprising.

“The greatest availability is for E-4 to E-6 ranks,” Williams said. “The most highly sought-after homes that have a wait time are in Patton Park and Wainwright Heights for officers and our five-bedroom homes in Kouma, Montague and Comanche II.”

Availability is based on two primary factors: the soldier’s rank and the number of bedrooms needed. Families are added to a waitlist when they apply for housing and shown houses as they become available. Turning down a home results in the family moving to the end of the list.

If the timing is right, families may be shown multiple houses and get a choice, rather than accepting the first home viewed.

According to the family housing website, most houses have a zero to one-month wait, aside from five-bedroom homes for junior noncommissioned officers and three- and four-bedroom homes for field-grade officers (those ranking major and higher).

Love the Lifestyle

Though Killeen is a military-centric town, Fort Hood residents find they enjoy being immersed in an all-military community.

The Paynes, a family of five, said this sense of community is what drew them to on-post housing at each of their duty stations. Missey Payne grew up on Naval bases and wanted the same atmosphere for her three children, ages 7 to 12.

Living in Comanche II, Payne said she found “a community where everyone has or is going through the same thing.”

Comanche II features larger, four- and five-bedroom homes on the main installation.

The convenience of being close to work is an added bonus for her husband.

Still, her house isn’t ideal. Payne described its layout as “awkward” and with less natural light than she’d like. “But with time, we were able to turn our house into a home,” she said.

The perks of on-post convenience outweigh the negative aspects for the Cromwells, the Harrisons and the Paynes, along with 17,846 family members living on Fort Hood, but no one’s home is perfect.

Family housing made strides in allowing more individuality through a painting program. Residents who use one of four shades, with colors ranging from beige to gray, can avoid repainting upon move out.

But, like many off-post rentals, Fort Hood housing has strict limitations on the type and number of pets allowed, as well as yard restrictions. Fines can be administered if yards fall out of line with the expected standard, a common concern on family housing Facebook pages.

Moving out

Rhondalyn V. Ware-Culver and her husband and child will be moving off-post soon into a newly purchased Harker Heights home.

They initially chose to live on Fort Hood, in Wainwright Heights, for the convenience the location offered.

“It gave us a chance to see all the homes on the market and do research on the builders in the area,” Ware-Culver said.

Though she enjoys their on-post home, a newer one built in 2009, which she finds comparable to the housing at the past three posts they lived on, her family “needs more room and (is) ready to settle,” she said.

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