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More airmen may live off base

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Jan. 06, 2004) -- A change in how the Air Force figures unaccompanied housing requirements will call for fewer dormitory rooms -- meaning more airmen could move off base in the future.

Under the new policy, which took effect Jan. 1, the Air Force must provide dormitory housing for unaccompanied E-1s through E-3s and E-4s with less than three years of service. Previously, the Air Force maintained dorm spaces for all unaccompanied airmen below E-5.

The policy change is designed to make the number of dorm rooms the Air Force must have available more predictable, said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald R. Murray.

"It is easier to base a construction policy on years in service as opposed to rank within the service," Chief Murray said. "We feel this construction policy will give us the best predictability."

Basing dorm room requirements on how many airmen are a certain rank is like "hitting a moving target," Chief Murray said. The problem lies in the wide range of time it takes for senior airmen to graduate to the noncommissioned officer grade.

"It currently takes an average of 4.6 years until our airmen sew on staff sergeant, but it used to be as high as six years," Chief Murray said. "Some take as much as seven or eight years time."

Calculating how long it takes an airman to reach E-4 is not nearly as unpredictable. Most airmen reach E-4 within four years -- some in as little as two with a below-the-zone promotion. That combination of rank, time in service and predictability makes the three-year senior airman the ideal cutoff point, Chief Murray said.

"Our standard will be that we will provide housing for airmen with up to three years service, and at that point, if dormitories are not available, our policy will provide other options for them," Chief Murray said.

Basic Allowance for Housing rates are now set high enough that a senior airman should be able to obtain adequate housing downtown, without paying a lot of out-of-pocket costs, Chief Murray said. That trend will continue, and by 2005, BAH is expected to pay 100 percent of off-base housing costs.

"Today we believe that our young airmen have the pay and allowance to go into the downtown areas and afford good-quality homes," Chief Murray said.