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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — With fewer houses currently available both on and off base, it’s taking families who move to Misawa on average 30 to 45 days to find housing.

And larger families more likely will be taking up residence downtown, at least temporarily, as their wait could be more than a half year.

On base, a $48 million government-funded project to renovate kitchens, laundry rooms and other living spaces in 1980s-era units has reduced the available housing pool by 281, base officials said. The project began in January and the displaced families all have been relocated, officials said.

But with four more housing refurbishment projects planned over the next five to eight years, housing could be tight at Misawa for some time, officials said. Off-base housing agents attribute the housing crunch downtown to the current project.

Almost all American-style homes outside the base are full, said an official Thursday with the Misawa Housing Association, 36 individuals and companies that own off-base homes catering to military families.

Some 1,400 off-base housing units are registered with the military housing office, according to Susumu Kohiruimaki, MHA administration director. About 1,000 are in Misawa City and 400 in the Oirase area.

Contractor James Sinkuc and his wife were in lodging 42 days before moving into an off-base home after arriving in October. They found a place after a few weeks of searching but had to wait until it was finished being built.

Sinkuc said he didn’t mind staying in lodging but would have, had he had kids.

“It would be really hard on a family,” he said. “You’re basically living in a crammed space, out of a suitcase, for more than a month.” As a contractor, Sinkuc has to live off base; he says he’s happy with his house.

Hisako Yamada of Sanroku Real Estate said that of the 160 homes her company manages for military families, just one currently is unoccupied. Whether the shortage will ease “depends on the military and there is no way for us to predict,” she said.

But Elizabeth Perry, chief of base housing management, said off-base housing agencies have reported that about 30 new homes for American families will be available in March and April. “That will help the demand very much,” she said.

Base officials attribute the off-base shortage in part to houses being demolished or relocated as part of the city’s plan to create a noise-abatement zone near the base flight path.

But a spokesman for Defense Facilities Administrative Bureau Misawa Office said Thursday that the number of American homes torn down for noise abatement was not immediately available.

The housing crunch has affected bigger families the most. On base, the three- and four-bedroom H-style homes have the longest waiting periods. Depending on the sponsor’s rank, the wait can be 75 to 200 days.

Families have the option of a two- or three-bedroom tower apartment on base - the waiting period for those are minimal - but some prefer a house or require one because of pets, officials said. In that case, they must actively look for a house off base, as they’re not permitted to stay in temporary lodging indefinitely.

If they move off base, however, they can remain on the waiting list and move back on base - at government expense - after their 6-month or annual lease expires and a base house opens up, officials said.

Perry said she didn’t know how many people were living in lodging awaiting quarters but 158 people are on a list waiting for increased entitlements or housing changes. Those individuals or families are adequately housed on or off base, she said, and either want to move on base or to a larger or different government house due to a change in rank or increase in family size.

The Air Force pays for airmen’s temporary lodging. Though that cost has increased with longer billeting stays, said Jim Carey, Misawa base housing flight chief, no housing policy changes at Misawa are expected.

“We’re not forcing them to take towers. If they have a preference, we stick with the preference,” he said.

The current renovation project is expected to last 12 to 18 months; throughout the contract period, finished units will be returned to the inventory after they’re inspected and accepted for occupancy, according to Perry.

But as those homes open up, others will close. The base plans to renovate about half of its approximately 2,240 housing units over the next five to eight years,although much of the needed funding hasn’t been awarded yet, Carey noted.

Housing officials tell families a move may be required at a later date because of future renovations, Perry said, adding that she advises customers to be flexible, reminding them that housing at Misawa is smaller with very limited on- and off-base storage.

“We are striving to minimize impacts to our residents so there are no forced moves during their tour,” she said.

Waiting time for housing

Estimated current waiting period for three- and four-bedroom H-style government homes at Misawa Air Base, Japan:

Four-bedroom:

Field grade: 180 to 200 days.

Company grade: 190 days.

Senior NCO: 190 days.

Junior NCO: 180 days.

Three-bedroom:

Field grade: 180 days.

Company grade: 180 to 190 days.

Senior NCO: 75 days.

Junior NCO: 75 days.

Three-bedroom tower units:

Wait is zero to 30 days for most ranks.

Source: Misawa Air Base housing office

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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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