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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — To address a housing shortage for junior enlisted personnel and their families here, a North Area neighborhood formerly for company grade officers is being redesignated.

The change could mean the mingling, temporarily, of officer and enlisted families in the same building. The military normally separates housing for the two groups.

In letters hand-delivered to current housing occupants earlier this month, families were told the news and asked to contact the housing office by June 4 if they wished to move, base officials said.

No one will be forced to relocate, said Drew Arp, deputy base civil engineer, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron.

“We’re taking a soft approach,” he said, “through attrition and voluntary moves.”

The base will fund the move at an estimated cost of $1,200 per family.

“If you don’t mind having enlisted neighbors, then you can stay there” until it’s time for a permanent change in station, Arp said. “And the same with enlisted, if they’re offered a house there and they say, ‘you know what, I don’t want to live by that officer,’ we’re not going to put them in.”

So far, 14 families in the 72-unit neighborhood have expressed an interest in moving, said Roger Fox, housing flight chief, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron. Seven want to stay put, and 32 families have not responded; 19 houses were vacated earlier due to permanent changes in station.

Ten enlisted families have moved into the neighborhood, which is hemmed in by Falcon Road and Eagle Drive.

The two-, three- and four-bedroom units are town house style, four to a building. Officers and junior NCOs from the same squadron will not be placed in the same building, officials said.

Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, the 35th Fighter Wing and base commander, approved the neighborhood redesignation at the request of base housing officials, they said.

Air Force instruction authorizes an installation commander “to redistribute family housing assets when there is an imbalance of existing assets,” the guidance reads.

The redesignation was made in response to a 2003 Air Force housing study of Misawa published earlier this year — and done every three years — that determined the base was short 159 units, officials said.

One unit in the shortfall is general officer’s quarters for the new Navy rear admiral of Command Task Force 72, which last year relocated its headquarters from Kamiseya, Japan, to Misawa.

The other 158 units are mostly for junior noncommissioned officers — E-1 to E-6 — “because that’s where the greatest need is,” Fox said.

Housing requirements for company grade (O-1 to O-3) dropped from 214 in 2000 to 108, according to the analysis.

The study looked at the cost of off-base rentals and the waiting list for on-base housing, among other factors, Fox said.

Decent housing off base is expensive and tends to be unaffordable for the junior enlisted ranks, said Donna Marchak, chief of housing assistance element, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron. Monthly rent averages from $700 to $1,800, according to the base housing office. Utilities tack on an extra $150 to $425 per month.

New houses start at $1,300 a month because builders are unable to get financing for new construction for anything less, Marchak said. “That leaves only the older units in an affordable category for the younger people.”

The maximum military overseas housing allowance for an E-3 with dependents, for example, is $1,153.85 per month.

A total of 464 families eligible for on-base housing live off base — some by choice, according to base officials.

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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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