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Bigger, better base housing on the way

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, TEXAS -- Bigger and better base housing is on the horizon for Laughlin Air Force Base members.

Laughlin is in the midst of a military housing privatization initiative which will give base families access to safe, quality, affordable, and well-maintained housing.

The 47th Mission Support Group Commander Col. Roger Thrasher said the initiative is really about quality of life and readiness.

"We are committed to ensuring our Airmen have the best," said Colonel Thrasher. "Excellent, well-maintained housing is an important element in military readiness. When Laughlin troops are deployed around the world, they don't need to be worried about their air conditioning not working or other problems with their home."

Colonel Thrasher said it also makes good fiscal sense for the Air Force.

"The Air Force housing privatization process not only provides new or renovated homes with better features, it saves Air Force funds, which can then be directed to other programs," said Colonel Thrasher. "It also saves the Air Force time, delivering homes sooner than through traditional MILCON (military construction.)"

According to the Air Force, today more than 38 percent of housing does not meet modern standards and requires either major improvement or replacement. Housing privatization is geared to fix this challenge, said Tinker Valero, Laughlin's Housing Privatization Project manager.

"Privatized homes at Laughlin will offer more space, modern features, and additional amenities such as garages, hiking trails, and recreational facilities," said Mrs. Valero. "Rent will be based on basic allowance for housing rates and maintenance service will be provided 24/7, 365 days a year."

Laughlin will privatize 516 housing units which will be designated for occupancy by pay grade.

The member's rent will not exceed the BAH at the dependent rate for the designated military pay grade, minus an amount sufficient to cover 110 percent of average estimated utility charges. Rent includes refuse collection, water, sewer, and common area grounds maintenance.

"Whether they choose to live on or off base, military members, BAH will go toward housing," said Mrs. Valero. "They will also receive enough to cover average utility costs. As long as people are prudent with their use of electricity and water, they should not have out-ofpocket expenses for utilities."

Laughlin's privatization effort has been underway since April 2004 when the first project development team meeting took place. Evaluations of bid proposals by prospective developers is scheduled to take place in late fall 2006, with tentative transaction closure by August 2007. Normally, construction should begin six months to a year after transaction closure depending on the construction plans outlined in the proposals.

"Once the developer takes over, he (she) agrees to bring homes up to Air Force standards through new construction or renovations within the development period," said Mrs. Valero. "The developer is responsible for operating and maintaining the homes for 50 years."

Mrs. Valero said "while circumstances may vary at each installation, demolition and renovation will usually begin on vacant units first in order to reduce the impact on families in occupied units."

There are many bases throughout the Air Force with "up and running" privatized developments, including Kirtland AFB, N.M., where Staff Sgt. Christopher Frost, a non-commissioned officer there, is impressed with the homes.

Sergeant Frost, a member of the 377th Air Base Wing, has lived in both old and new housing at Kirtland and "loves the new."

"The first thing I noticed with the new privatized housing is the size," said Sergeant Frost. "They are really spacious; the layout of the houses is more modern and open. I felt like I was living in a sardine can in the old housing. The other thing I really like is everything is new ... new appliances, new carpeting, and they also have garages."

Sergeant Frost said the BAH plus 10 percent for utilities is more than enough for his family.

"We usually come out ahead," the Sergeant said. "If your utilities come in below what you're allotted, you get to pocket the rest. I like that."