Sunday, December 09, 2012

Army life on Oahu - where to live?

We've never lived there (although I've visited Hawaii twice), but I've been very fortunate to gather intel from others who have been there and done that.  I found an incredible message board, filled with military spouses who are living in Hawaii now or in the past, plus there are a few Facebook groups that have helped answer some specific questions.  They've given me tons of good advice (especially Karen!), and I've filled a OneNote notebook with information about everything I can think of.

First, the good news.

* The government knows it's much more expensive to live on Oahu than rural Pennsylvania, so we'll get more allowances to help cover costs.  The housing allowance is more than twice as much as we get here, plus there's the cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) that we'll receive.  In addition, whatever job I'm able to get also has a higher "locality" pay than most of the rest of the country, and also comes with a COLA.  Since my income isn't needed to pay living expenses, the higher locality and COLA amounts will help pay off car payments and such much faster.  Looking forward to that!

* I don't understand why, but we're allowed to receive our housing allowance at the same time we're paid temporary lodging expenses living in the hotel.  While we're living in the hotel, we'll be able to bank a significant amount of money!  That'll come in handy, especially since we're shipping our second car and the dogs on our own (and yes, it's probably more expensive than you're imagining).  The hotel time is not unlimited, however.  If the housing office doesn't foresee houses becoming available for us in the near future after our arrival, we won't have the option of living on-post.

Then the bad news.

* The waiting lists for on-post housing are long and complicated.  I'm not convinced that anyone, even the people that work in the housing office, know exactly how families are chosen for houses that come open.  *laugh*  There's a priority list, and rules about family size and number of bedrooms, but reading others' stories about how many kids they have, and how long they've been waiting, and all the rest of the details, just makes no sense to me.  We're allowed a three bedroom house.  As a Master Sergeant, there are certain neighborhoods they'll place us.  After that, we wait until it's our turn and they offer us a place.  If I understand correctly, we're allowed to turn down one offer and remain on the list.  If we turn down the second offer, we're on our own to find a place off-post.  More on that below.

* Only some of the neighborhoods we're approved to live in are zoned for the same schools as the hotel we'll be living in when we get there.  This means that if we move into a house in a different neighborhood, Kaden will have to change schools, only weeks or months after we get there.  I'm not thrilled about this idea, and I know some families have chosen to hold their kids out of school until they know where they'll be living to avoid this problem.  I don't like that idea either.  The neighborhood I want to live in is zoned for the same elementary school as the hotel, so we plan to start the boys in school soon after we get there and hope for the best.  Justin's middle school is the same for any of the neighborhoods we might live in, so he won't be affected unless we end up having to live off-post.

* We have three pets.  If we live on-post, we're only allowed two.  If we live off-post, we'll be limited to houses that allow both cats (Mo) and big dogs (Tank, a 75 lb lab, and Dozer, a 55 lb boxer).  Many houses don't allow pets at all.  Many don't allow cats.  Many don't allow dogs, let alone two big dogs.  Since we're hoping to live on-post, we asked Darrell's mom if she'd be willing to take in Mo.  She said yes, thankfully.  I think Mo will like her house better anyway, as Tank is way too interested in her.  So, we have "only" the two dogs to worry about.  Looking at potential rental houses, most that do allow pets either allow only small dogs (under 20 pounds), or only one, or only outdoors, or other limitations that don't work for us.  If we end up needing to look off post, I think we'll find it extremely challenging to find someone to rent to a family with two large 50+ pound indoor/outdoor dogs.  There are many school districts I'm not willing to live in, which limits our options drastically.

* If, as stated above, the housing office says we're out of luck waiting to live on-post, we'll have to find a place off-post.  We have to turn in a list of places we've looked at, and reasons why they won't work, every ten days to continue to receive the temporary lodging expenses.  No pressure!!  And, we're limited on what those elimination reasons can be.  While we can certainly turn down a place because we don't like it, that's not an acceptable reason for the list.  Bad schools?  Not an acceptable reason.  They don't allow pets?  Not an acceptable reason.  Only one bathroom?  Not an acceptable reason.  And of course, there's no list of acceptable reasons supplied to us - just reasons we're not allowed to use.  I'm really (really!!) hoping this never comes to pass.  There are only a couple of places I'm willing to live in (good schools) and the rental market is tough in those places.  While our housing allowance is fairly high due to Darrell's rank, we still have the dogs to worry about.  This has the potential to be stressful.

So, here's hoping we will be offered a place on-post, and in the neighborhood I want!!  And quickly, but not too quickly, as I'd love to save up some of that extra money!!  =)

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