News

Navy housing to go private

The Navy is getting out of the housing business and back to its core mission — defending the country.

By this time next year Whidbey Island Naval Air Station personnel who live in base housing will have a new landlord, courtesy of a “Public-Private Venture.” If all goes as planned, families living in base housing should see little change in their living arrangements.

According to Rick Huling, a Navy Region Northwest public affairs officer, the Navy will turn over management, renovation and construction of base housing in the entire region to a private contractor by October 2004.

The move would affect 1,552 housing units for base personnel on Whidbey Island, and many, many families here.

Under the new arrangement, service members will receive their basic allowance for housing as part of their paycheck, instead of seeing it automatically deducted. They will then pay rent and utilities directly to the management company. While this means the service person will be directly responsible for seeing that a portion of their paycheck actually goes for rent and utilities, that housing allowance amount will not change. Huling said the amount charged for rent will not change, as it is set by rank.

Tenants will only be charged an extra amount for utilities if they consistently use an “excessive” amount of these services.

They will also sign a lease and be subject to state landlord-tenant laws. While military families now are assigned a housing unit for the duration of their tour at a base, under the private manager the lease will be short term and flexible, according the Kim Martin, NAS Whidbey public affairs officer. There will also be provisions for breaking a lease for military reasons.

There will still be a Base Housing office, as well as a representative from the private company that residents can go to with concerns.

Contractors interested in managing the base housing will have to submit proposals, which have to be approved by Congress.

“Ultimately, we’re hoping we will save some money,” Huling said. A private contractor would have more options for raising money, such as by private loans, for renovation or building purposes.

While the move eliminates much of the difference between Navy and private, community housing, there are still advantages, Huling said.

Sailors and their families moving to a new community can be assured of a home that meets Navy housing standards at a fixed price.

“The Navy guarantees their people are not living in slum conditions,” Huling said. Base security will also continue under the new arrangement.

The sense of community that living in Navy housing affords will also not change, Huling said. While the private company can rent to non-military families, military personnel will have priority. As they do now, military families have the option of using their housing allowance to rent anywhere they choose. With a waiting list now for base housing at Whidbey, the chance of non-military families moving in anytime soon is slim.

Martin said the Navy has stopped renovation of 643 housing units at Whidbey, including 260 units at Capehart and 32 at Maylor Point. The private contractor will take over the renovations once the contract is signed with the Navy.

Huling said Navy Region Northwest will work to keep residents informed throughout the process, in order to make the transition to private management as smooth as possible.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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