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Can Veterans Live on Base? Housing Options for Veterans and Retirees

by Becca Stewart - June 22nd, 2022

Can Veterans Live on Base? Housing Options for Veterans and Retirees

When it’s time to hang up that uniform for good, one question usually looms large: where do we live now? For many military retirees, military housing is a viable option. Living on base (or on post, depending on your service branch) gives veterans plenty of access to the services and support they have earned. But can veterans live on base? Or are these housing communities reserved for active-duty service members only?

Spoiler alert: retirees, veterans, DoD contractors, and even non-military civilians can all live in military housing.

Types of base housing

In 1996, Congress enacted the privatized housing program designed to improve housing conditions for military families worldwide. Before enacting this law, military housing was owned and operated exclusively by the Department of Defense. After years of underfunding and neglect, these houses were in poor condition. 

Since the privatized housing act passed, contractors have partnered with military bases to build, renovate, and manage military housing both on and off military installations.

About 99% of all military housing is now owned and operated by privatized housing company contractors. Chances are, if you choose to live on a military installation, you’ll be dealing with a privatized contractor. These contractors handle applications, leases, and maintenance for that particular installation. 

Who can live in base housing?

Military housing is designed primarily for active-duty service members with one or more dependents or high-ranking members without dependents.

However, these housing communities don’t always fill up with active-duty families. To curb housing costs, the DoD authorizes vacant units to be leased to “Other Eligible Tenants,” or OETs. These OETs can include:

  • National Guard/Reserve members and families

  • Federal civil service employees

  • Military and civil service retirees

  • DoD contractors

  • Non-military civilians and the general public

Privatized housing companies are in the business of making money. Empty houses mean less profit, so they’re constantly looking for residents outside the military mainstream. 

Can veterans live on base?

If base housing has vacancies, retirees can absolutely live on the installation. All veterans with base access (Purple Heart recipients, former POWs, and those with a Veterans Healthcare Identification Card) can also live in military housing if there is space available.

Even veterans without traditional base access can potentially qualify for on-base housing. Some installations allow civilians and members of the general public to live on base. If you are a veteran and are interested in living near a specific military installation, contact the local housing office to learn more about your options. 

Can civilians live on base?

As part of the 1996 privatized housing initiative, installations with high vacancy rates can open up housing to non-military-affiliated civilians. In some cases, these housing communities are not inside the installation’s gates, so residents don’t need or receive any base access. When these communities are inside the gates, however, civilians are issued base access cards. These cards allow them to go onto the installation and live in military housing, even without previous connections to the military.

Base access cards do not grant civilians access to any other base amenities like the commissary, Exchange, fitness centers, or medical facilities. But residents can access the community pool, parks, chapel, and other areas where military IDs are not required.

Pros and cons of living on a military installation

There are both advantages and disadvantages of living on a military installation. Some military families love living on base, while others are determined to live off base. The reasons for each are as varied as the families who make those decisions. 

Knowing and understanding the pros and cons can help you decide whether military housing is right for you.

Pros of military housing

Some military families love living on base and choose to live in military housing each time they PCS. Many retirees love on-base living for many of the same reasons.

Military housing communities give you immediate access to many of your hard-earned veteran benefits, including on-base medical facilities, commissaries, the Exchange, and other amenities. Read more here about medical considerations when choosing where to live after retirement.

In some locations, your rent might include yard maintenance, utilities, and other services. These inclusions can drastically reduce your cost of living. Of course, each installation is different, so check with the housing provider for more information.

Finally, many retirees like living on base because it provides a sense of security you can’t find anywhere else. There are armed guards at every entrance into the installation, and your neighbors are government-vetted employees. You would be hard-pressed to find a more secure living environment.

Cons of military housing

Other military families choose to live off base, even when military housing is available. There are many different reasons a service member might decide to forego military housing. No matter the reason, when service members don’t live on base, housing options open up for retirees, DoD contractors, and civilians. 

As a non-active-duty resident, there are a few disadvantages to consider before living on the installation. Anyone not on active duty may only live on the installation if vacant houses are available. If there is an influx of active-duty families who need housing, you may need to move at the end of your lease to make room for those families.

Secondly, while living on base is the ultimate gated community, it can be challenging to have non-military friends and family visit. Those without a valid military ID will not be able to access the base alone, meaning you will have to escort them onto the installation each time they visit. 

Discover the best on-installation housing communities

Retirees who choose to live on base have plenty of options. There are many military-friendly cities, each offering unique incentives for former service members and their families. The tough part is deciding which one to choose.

Luckily, we’ve done a lot of the research for you, and it’s all here on Find out more about military installations across the country, including housing reviews from other military families. You can also find helpful Area Guides that highlight some of the best entertainment options in each location. 

Other housing options for military retirees and veterans

There are plenty of Veteran benefits designed to help former and current service members find a place to call home. Whether you decide to live in base housing, live full-time in an RV, or purchase your forever home, PCSgrades is here to help. Read reviews on local communities, connect with military-friendly real estate agents and lenders, and discover how to make your veteran benefits work for you at

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Becca Stewart

Becca Stewart is an Air Force Spouse, mother of two, freelance writer, and sufferer of Wanderlust. Originally from Colorado, she enjoys anything outdoors, especially if there’s snow involved. She is a travel fanatic, always looking for her next great adventure. As a full-time writer, Becca works closely with several nonprofit organizations and is a passionate advocate for human rights and military families. Learn more at