Off-base housing survey changes approach
December 10, 2003
Servicemembers living off base have the opportunity to help influence how much the government doles out for overseas utilities and move-in costs.
The 2003 Overseas Housing Allowance Utility and Move-In Expenses Survey is available online this year to all servicemembers who live in privately leased quarters overseas and receive a housing allowance.
Previously, the survey was distributed by mail to a sample of servicemembers.
But personnel complained their utility and move-in expenses were not considered in calculating the rates, according to the Per Diem Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee in Washington, which conducts the annual survey.
“This is their chance to report their actual expenses so that their allowance will match what they’re actually paying” for utilities and move-in costs, said Maj. Keith Muschalek, Japan country coordinator and U.S. Forces Japan comptroller and financial manager.
The survey was distributed via mail and through the Internet last year.
This year, the committee is pushing to get more servicemembers to answer the questionnaire online, Muschalek said.
“There’s a faster turnaround; it’s far more efficient and none get lost in the mail,” he said.
Those eligible to take the survey include all uniformed servicemembers including the Coast Guard and employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Public Health Service who live off base.
In 2002, about 3,000 such employees were drawing overseas housing allowances in Japan, Muschalek said, noting that about 40 percent completed the questionnaire that year, 796 by hand and 409 via the Web.
Only Germany has more U.S. servicemembers than Japan who draw an overseas housing allowance, Muschalek noted.
The confidential seven-page survey should take about 10 to 20 minutes to complete, Muschalek said. It’s available at www.milsurveys.com/oha/ through Jan. 31, 2004.
The survey has two sections, one for utilities costs and one for move-in and miscellaneous expenses.
Servicemembers who live off base are reimbursed rent dollar-for-dollar, but they receive a lump sum, which varies with exchange rates, for utilities, based on average recurring costs the per diem committee sets for that area, Muschalek said.
“Based on what members report to the per diem committee, we want to try and get as close as possible to actual utility expenses,” Muschalek said.
When completing the survey, servicemembers should refer to actual bills or records of utility and maintenance expenses for the last 12 months and compute a monthly average for each of those costs, according to information from the per diem committee.
Questions about move-in expenses are included in the per diem committee’s overseas housing allowance survey every three years.
Muschalek said the amount is set for a country or locality. He said every servicemember who receives an overseas housing allowance also receives a one-time, up-front payment to cover average move-in costs for items including major appliances, utility hook-up charges, transformers and voltage regulators and safety items such as smoke detectors.
“We encourage servicemembers to report costs incurred in making their homes livable,” Muschalek said. “If you’re so far out the local base can’t supply you with a refrigerator or stove, that can be a major appliance you can record as necessary.”
The per diem committee has hired Data Recognition Corp. to collect the survey data.
“We should see the survey results around springtime,” Muschalek said.
Any rate adjustments would go into effect after that for the next 12 months.
Just the facts…
What: The 2003 Overseas Housing Allowance Utility and Move-In Expenses Survey
Who’s eligible: All servicemembers who reside in privately leased quarters overseas and get a housing allowance.
How: Complete the online survey through Jan. 31 at: www.milsurveys.com/OHA/
Utility items that should be reported: Electricity, gas for heating, kerosene, fuel oil, coal, firewood, water for residence, bottled water for drinking, trash, bottled gas, maintenance and minor repairs, condo fees, guards, and taxes for which the tenant is responsible and must make a separately identifiable payment.
Utility items that should not be reported: Cable television, tuition, telephone bills, auto gasoline/diesel fuel, auto expenses, books, pet expenses, postage, road taxes, gifts, repairs to personal electrical equipment, maid service and yard maintenance.
Move-in expenses that should be reported: Major appliances including refrigerator, freezer, stove, washing machine, clothes dryer, water heater, space heater, water purifier, air conditioner, humidifier and dehumidifier. Utility hook-ups such as nonrefundable deposits for telephone, electric, heating and water. Security or safety items such as window bars, burglar alarms and smoke detectors. Initial services and fees for items such as home inspection, fumigation, wall papering and painting. Miscellaneous items like sinks or tub or toilet seats, curtain or shower rods, floor coverings, permanent light fixtures, wardrobes, screens and futons. Transformers and voltage regulators.
Move-in expenses that should not be reported: Rugs, carpets, curtains and drapes. Lawn and garden maintenance expenses, fencing and other yard items. Dishwashers, microwave ovens and small personal appliances. Televisions, antennas and cable installation. Light bulbs. Taxes of any kind, unless required by lease. Any personal labor costs and any refundable deposits.
— Stars and Stripes