Everyone in the military gets free (or almost free) housing. How the military chooses to provide this to you depends mostly upon your marital (dependency) status, or your rank. If you are married and living with your spouse and/or minor dependents, you will either live in on-base housing, or be given a monetary allowance called BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) to live off-base. The amount of BAH is dependent upon your rank, your location, and whether or not you have dependents.
If you are in the Guard or Reserves, and entitled to a housing allowance, you will receive a special, reduced BAH, called BAH Type II, anytime you are on active duty for less than 30 days. If you are on orders to serve on active duty for 30 days or more, you'll receive the full housing allowance rate (the same as active duty).
If you have dependents, you will receive the housing allowance, even when staying in the barracks at basic training and/or technical school/AIT/A-School. This is because the military makes it mandatory for you to provide adequate housing for your dependents. This will be included as part of your regular paycheck (Note: In the military, your monthly pay entitlements are paid twice per month -- 1/2 on the 1st of the month, and 1/2 on the last duty day of the month). For basic training and/or technical school/AIT/A-School, you will receive the BAH amount for the location where your dependent(s) are residing.
However, if you are not married and/or divorced and are paying child support, you do not receive full-rate BAH while living in the barracks. In this case, special rules apply, and the member receives BAH-DIFF.
Special rules apply for military-married-to-military couples. For details, see our Military Couples article.
Unlike basic pay, BAH is an "allowance," not a "pay," and is therefore not taxable.
If you are single, you can expect to spend the few few years of your military service residing on-base in the dormitory, or "barracks." Policies concerning single military members living off-base at government expense vary from service to service, and even from base to base, depending on the occupancy rate of the barracks/dormitories on the particular base.
Army policy allows single members in the paygrade of E-6 and above to live off base at government expense. However, at some bases, E-5s are allowed to move off base at government expense, depending on the barracks occupancy rates of that base.
The Air Force policy generally allows single E-4s, with more than 3 years of service, and above to reside off-base at government expense.
The Navy policy allows single sailors in the paygrades of E-5 and above, and E-4s with more than four years of service to reside off base and receive a housing allowance.
The Marines allow single E-6s and above to reside off base at government expense. On some bases, depending on the barracks occupancy rate, single E-5s and even some E-4s are authorized to reside off base.
If your recruiter promised you condos, you're out of luck (Remember the movie, Private Benjamin?). However, all of the services have implemented plans to improve single housing (dormitories/barracks) for enlisted personnel.
The Air Force was the first service to get started on the program, and are arguably ahead of the other services. All airmen, outside of basic training and technical school are now entitled to a private room. The Air Force started with remodling barracks into a concept called one-plus-one, which provided a private room, a small kitchen, and a bathroom/shower shared with one other person. The Air Force has now upgraded their program using a concept called "Dorms-4-Airmen." All new Air Force dormitories (except basic training and technical school) are now designed using this concept. Dormitories under this program are four bedroom apartments. Airmen have a private room and private bath and share a kitchen, washer & dryer, and living room with three other airmen.
The Army's standard is a two bedroom apartment, designed for two Soldiers. Each soldier gets a private bedroom and share a kitchen, bathroom, and living room.
The Navy had a serious problem when this initiative started. Thousands of their junior sailors were living on ships, even when their assigned ships were in port. To construct enough barracks on Navy base to provide single rooms for all of these sailors would cost a fortune. The Navy solved this problem by getting permission from Congress to use private industry to construct and operate privatized housing for lower-ranking single Sailors. Like the Army, this design is a two-bedroom apartment. Each Sailor will have a private bedroom, a private bathroom, and share a kitchen, dining area, and living room with another Sailor. However, under the Navy's Homeport Ashore initiative, Sailors assigned to ships which are in port must share a bedroom until additional funding becomes available to build new complexes. Like privatized family housing the Sailor would pay the complex management monthly rent (which is equal to their housing allowance). The "rent" covers all utilities and rental insurance. The plan calls for the apartment complexes to include fitness facilities, media centers, Wi-Fi lounges, and technology centers. The first two contracts have been awarded, for the Navy's two largest fleet areas (San Diego and Norfolk). They are scheduled to be fully operational sometime in FY 2008. Additional projects are projected for Hampton Roads, VA., and Mayport, FL.
The Marines have taken a diffent route. The Marine Corps believes that lower-ranking enlisted Marines living together is essential to discipline, unit cohesion, and espirit de corps. Under the Marine Corps program, junior Marines (E-1 to E-3) share a room and a bathroom. Marines in the paygrades of E-4 and E-5 are entitled to a private room.