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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — A boom in off-base construction has helped ease a housing crunch at Misawa, base officials say.

Jim Carey, Misawa base housing flight chief, said families new to Misawa are finding housing right away, whether they choose to live on or off base.

“That initial crunch we had is over,” he said last week.

Families were waiting on average 30 to 45 days to find a house in February. Housing at the time was in short supply due to a federally funded military housing renovation project that shuttered 281 units on the base for kitchen, laundry room and other improvements.

New houses were going up off base but couldn’t keep up with demand, officials said at the time.

The situation, however, has improved, Carey said, noting that 50 to 60 new houses have been built for Americans within the last year, with another 100 expected to be available by the end of this year.

Susumu Kohiruimaki, Misawa Housing Association administration director, said there currently is not much wait for off-base houses, but he added that the wait time can fluctuate depending on the time of year.

Although there aren’t many vacancies at existing houses, Kohiruimaki said, additional houses built since last year may have improved the situation.

An agent for Sanroku Real Estates, which manages about 170 houses for military families, said this week the company has homes available for lease right away, although she wouldn’t say how many.

The agent also said some houses currently under construction will be ready in two or three weeks.

Units being renovated on base are those built in the 1980s in the North Area and on Main Base. An additional 200 units in the North Area are slated for similar improvements beginning in January, Carey said.

As January’s renovation work progresses, units in the first phase should start to open up, Carey said, adding that he doesn’t expect the base to face another housing crunch. Base residents living in units that are part of the next phase already are being asked to move as housing becomes available, he said.

One category of residents that will have to wait to move to bigger on-base homes is married couples expecting a baby. An Air Force policy change this spring requires married personnel who are expecting a birth to wait until their baby is born before moving to a house with more bedrooms, Carey said.

Single personnel, however, can move up to 60 days ahead of the due date. The previous policy allowed both single and married individuals to move 30 days prior to the baby’s due date.

Carey said waivers may be sought for exceptional circumstances, such as pregnancy complications or a spouse who will be deployed when the baby is to be born.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.

Be warned: Look before you sign

Housing officials at Misawa Air Base are reminding base personnel to check in with the housing office before signing a lease for an off-base home.

Not doing so can land a person in a bit of hot water — or in a situation where there’s a lack thereof, they warn.

An airman earlier this summer bypassed the housing office, moving into a house that his friend had rented previously, according to Jim Carey, Misawa base housing flight chief. The friend, however, before moving from Misawa had been deployed and the house, sitting empty for about six months, needed some basic repairs.

“He signed the lease for the house and moved in,” Carey said of the airman. “He then decides to check out everything, and he found out that the things didn’t work.”

The housing office was then called on to intervene, as the airman was going to lose his $500 deposit and would have to pay to move his belongings out of the house, Carey said.

“Luckily enough, that agent he dealt with, we deal with a lot,” Carey said. “They agreed to move him out till the house is repaired.”

Carey noted that the real estate agent didn’t know the house was in disrepair, as the previous renter never reported the problems.

Though the airman’s was a rare case — the first in Carey’s 2½ years at the housing office — the lesson is still valuable, he said.

“If they sign a lease, and they don’t come [to housing] first, they can get stuck with the lease,” he said.

“That’s every base,” Carey said. “Not just here. At any military base, they have to go to the housing office first, because there can be a list of people you are not allowed to rent from.”

There’s no housing “blacklist” at Misawa, Carey said, but base housing inspectors do inspect all off-base homes available for Americans to rent. They ensure houses are up to American standards, meaning they can accommodate American-style appliances, have wide enough doors for furniture to be moved in and out and have heating units that properly ventilate.

The housing office keeps a list of approved houses and also provides a lease agreement, written in Japanese and English, for prospective renters to take to their housing agent, Carey said.

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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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