YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — No doubt there is a family housing surplus on base.

Towering apartment buildings sit practically empty and a $232 million basewide housing renovation project is being scaled back due to a declining population in recent years as military units have been relocated.

But while officials are executing a plan to increase occupancy and convert some unused housing into dormitories and lodging, questions remain about exactly how many of Yokota’s 2,639 apartments, townhouses and single-family houses should be shuttered.

A 2009 Air Force study pegged Yokota’s excess at 1,230 units, though base figures indicate that the count is between 700 and 800 units, said Col. Rafael Quezada, 374th Mission Support Group commander.

The difference, Quezada said, is because the study did not take into account the demand for civilian housing at Yokota.

Stateside bases do not house civilians, but "we do because we can provide that," Quezada said. "[Why push civilians off base] when we can house them right here on base and not pay them living quarters allowance?"

Government-employed civilians hired from the U.S. to work overseas for the military typically receive hefty housing allowances, though some agencies require them to live on base when housing is available.

Yokota plans to implement a "base-first" policy this summer that will require all incoming military families — who now have the option of residing off base — to live at Yokota, where occupancy has dipped below 85 percent, Quezada said.

About 2,300 servicemembers and civilians associated with Yokota live off base, including 160 military families who could have been accommodated on base, he said. The number also includes contractors, who are not permitted to live on Air Force bases. Roughly 5,600 servicemembers, civilians and dependents live on base.

Kadena and Misawa air bases in Japan adopted similar base-first policies earlier this year to drive up occupancy, which military officials try to keep at 95 percent.

Single officers and senior noncommissioned officers will still have the option to live outside the gates. But Quezada said more might choose to call Yokota home now that the base this month opened three sparsely populated apartment towers to single officers, senior noncommissioned officers and civilians who previously could only live on base in dormitories.

Those dorms — which have small kitchens, private bathrooms and living rooms — would then be available to junior noncommissioned officers who were required to live on base this summer to increase dorm occupancy.

Pacific Air Forces is trying to convince officials who oversee Air Force housing at the Pentagon that the Housing Requirements and Market Analysis study that determined Yokota’s surplus should be amended to include demand from the civilian population and Japan’s funding for base facilities, a PACAF official said.

Stacie Kaneshiro, PACAF’s housing management branch chief at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, said the study, conducted by all services periodically at bases around the world, shows similar overestimated surpluses exist elsewhere in Japan.

The study assesses the ability of off-base markets to house servicemembers before initiating military construction on base, according to an explanation of the program posted on Hickam’s Web site.

The Japanese government spends about $4 billion annually to host the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed here.

"The houses are already built, the Japanese built them for us and they’re built to last 50 years, so we can’t just say, ‘Get off base,’" Quezada said.

Not only does a base-first rule justify the Japanese investment in U.S. resources, officials have said, it saves the military from shelling out millions of dollars in off-base housing allowances every year.

"The numbers don’t lie," Kaneshiro said.

Pentagon officials contacted Tuesday were not available for comment this week.

Along with converting some Yokota housing towers into dorms, three other virtually empty towers will soon be designated as contingency lodging, with plans to convert another into temporary living quarters for families transitioning to or from the Tokyo-area base.

Even after all the shuffling, at least 200 housing units will need to be mothballed either until there is a demand or alternative uses for them can be found, Quezada said. Plans to scale back the housing in light of the surplus have yet to be completed, he said.

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