Beaufort's on-base housing now available to military retirees

With deals in the civilian real estate market and monthly housing allowances for Marines on the rise, more military families are leaving base housing for homes of their own.

In response, the company that runs base housing for the Beaufort area's three installations will start renting some of its properties to military retirees.

The homes were available only to active-duty military families, single officers, enlisted personnel and employees with the Department of Defense. But as demand has dropped, Atlantic Marine Corps Communities is setting aside 20 homes for qualifying military retirees, said director of property management BJ Cozard.

Atlantic Marine Corps Communities is the parent company of Tri-Command Communities, which oversees Beaufort's 1,718 military homes. The new policy was announced Monday.

"It's a market-based condition and it changes every day, but right now we have homes at Laurel Bay and at Pine Grove (at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort) that are available immediately," said Atlantic Marine spokeswoman Dixie Lanier. "Military families are my top priority, but we have enough vacancies right now to allow us to open the door to this tenant group."

Two- to four-bedroom homes are available starting at $750 a month, according to the company.

Marines receive monthly allowances for off-base housing that vary depending on their rank, number of dependent children and the area's average cost of living.

For example, a private stationed in Beaufort without children is eligible for $991 a month in living expenses, a 2.7 percent increase from last year, according to the Defense Department.

The Marine Corps adjusts the allowance each fiscal year.

"The basic allowable housing that the Marine Corps is giving out is up significantly in the Beaufort area and has allowed service members to purchase homes in some cases," Lanier said.

Jimmie Wood, 48, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant working and living on Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, expects other retired veterans to take advantage of the convenience he has enjoyed. Wood retired from the Corps in 2000 and was the first civilian Defense Department employee to live in Laurel Bay when he and his wife moved in 2006 from Shell Point, he said.

"I'm three miles door-to-door to work every day, and I get to live in a military community," said Wood, who was eligible to live in Laurel Bay as the family readiness officer for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115. "It's almost a no-brainer. It's a great opportunity for retirees to keep a connection with the military."