Long-term Yokota civilians may get to remain on-base through the summer
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Longtime civilian residents of Yokota likely will get to stay in their homes through the summer, though the ultimate determination rests with an Air Force headquarters study in June aimed at reducing excess base housing, according to Yokota’s commanding officer.
The base warned 42 residents in March that they could lose their homes as early as July as Yokota officials wrestle with the upcoming influx of military families this summer — a traditional time for military family moves — and a shrinking housing inventory due to the looming housing study and a massive renovation project.
The March 4 letter was sent to those who have lived on base more than five years and would be required by Air Force policy to move off base if military housing requirements exceed available units.
However, the base has now decided to reopen some units and keep open others that were scheduled to close in anticipation of upcoming renovations, including a nine-story apartment tower that was to be vacated and maintained as contingency lodging, said Col. Mark Hicks, commander of the 374th Airlift Wing.
The decision should allow housing officials to accommodate all civilians currently living on base as well as the overlap of incoming and outgoing families this summer until several hundred renovated units open in November, Hicks said.
"We’re optimistic," he said. "We should be able to keep everyone (civilians who have lived on Yokota more than five years) on base through the summer PCS season."
To further ease pressure on the housing inventory, he said, the base has delayed implementing a base-first housing policy, which would require all military personnel to live on Yokota. The policy has been adopted already at Misawa Air Base in mainland Japan and Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.
Still, Hicks said he cannot guarantee housing for civilians until after June, when Air Force headquarters officials conduct a new study to determine exactly how many surplus homes at Yokota must be left vacant — part of sweeping effort by the service to save money. Hicks said it is unclear how long after the June study that determination will be made.
Yokota officials successfully pushed back against a 2009 study that would have required the base to close 1,230 of its 2,639 units.
That assessment did not accurately depict the housing market surrounding Yokota — which is expensive and often unappealing to American families accustomed to larger homes — nor the demand of civilian personnel, Yokota officials have said.
There is a surplus, but it’s closer to between 200 and 300 units, Col. Rafael Quezada, commander of the 374th Mission Support Group, told Stars and Stripes in March after he had "taken off the books" about 500 family housing units by converting them to officer and civilian dorms, contingency lodging and temporary housing.
Quezada and Hicks said occupying current housing both improves the quality of life for Yokota residents while continuing to use the infrastructure built by the Japanese, which even if shuttered could not be razed per bilateral agreements.
Hicks aims to make the point with headquarters officials that maintaining space for civilians on Yokota is ultimately more cost-effective than forcing them off base to reduce costs of maintaining under-used buildings.
Government-employed civilians hired from the U.S. to work for the military overseas typically receive hefty housing allowances. Some agencies require them to live on base when housing is available to control costs.
Base officials are organizing a town hall meeting to address housing concerns in May, though an exact date has not been set.