MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Toward boosting occupancy rates of on-base housing to at least 98 percent, base officials have approved a new policy making moving off base more difficult for some families.

Now, any family qualifying for junior noncommissioned housing — typically E-1 to E-6 — who moved to Misawa after Dec. 30 must live on base if housing officials can find them a unit within 30 days.

Also, routine requests to vacate military family housing to live off base will be denied, the new policy states. Requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and approved only for family separations, medical or emergency situations, according to the policy letter. This applies to all ranks who qualify for family housing.

The housing policy also allows single, pregnant unaccompanied military personnel to occupy excess two-bedroom units usually reserved for family housing up to 60 days before their estimated delivery dates. Once a child is born in such cases, the unit would be considered military family housing, allowing her and the child to remain there. Currently, unaccompanied military members not living in dorms reside off base.

Lt. Col. Dave Maharrey, 35th Civil Engineering Squadron commander, said the policy is intended to spell out management tools housing officials can use any time the Air Force goal of 98 percent occupancy is not maintained for three months. The policy letter notes such actions will be suspended when the rate is reached and maintained for three months.

If a family wants to move off base and “we’re below 98 percent, the answer is ‘no,’” Maharrey said, noting that individuals may apply for a waiver to the policy, which would be reviewed by 35th Mission Support Group.

Typically, families may decide to live on or off base at Misawa, Maharrey said. “We understand that there are folks who come to Japan and want to live on the economy,” he said. “However, we also have to fill our houses best as we can.”

Misawa’s military family housing units are about 95 percent full, Maharrey said. Many of the available units not occupied are designated for junior enlisted personnel and their families, a category previously determined to be a high-need area.

A 2003 Air Force housing study concluded the base was short about 159 units, at the time mostly needed by junior enlisted families. To remedy the shortage, last year a North Area neighborhood for company-grade officers was redesignated for junior NCO families. Also, new three-bedroom junior NCO family units recently opened in the 800 area on base, Maharrey said.

The redesignation and new units dropped overall housing occupancy on base, he added.

About 1,700 of Misawa’s 2,200 housing units now are for junior enlisted personnel and their families, he said, adding, “It’s hard to justify a deficit when you have a lot of houses sitting empty. Judicious use of resources, that’s the goal.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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