Keesler Plans To Demolish Hundreds Of Homes

Bryan Estep is an instructor at Keesler Air Force Base. The family moved into a military unit at Harrison Court in February. His wife, Erica, said "I really enjoy it. I actually feel safe in my home, living in military housing. I have wonderful neighbors".

The Esteps look forward to a private company taking ownership of all 1,800 military homes.

"It would be to everyone's benefit if they had a company come in, because they would be able to do work on the houses, maybe painting or put in a new fence for your backyard," Estep said.

Under the Air Force housing plan, a private company would renovate some units and tear down the rest. Keesler's Commander, Gen. Michael Peterson, said "We expect the contracting to start about 2005. Certainly not all the houses will be gone day one, but over the five year period, we expect our houses to be reduced by half".

General Peterson says the plan can cut costs, because most of the homes were built in the 50's.

"Our option would be to replace or renovate and that's a big up front bill for us. But the government would save money, because now, instead of renovation or replacement, we would ask a contractor to invest his money. His payback would be charging rent on the property," Peterson said.

General Peterson says military families who live on base housing will continue to get an allowance to pay their rent and utilities. So will those who choose to rent private apartments or buy homes.

"It's been a strong push over the years to increase the housing allowance. So if a family moves downtown, that housing allowance will be very close to what it would cost to rent or to purchase a home and pay utilities. So the funds that we provide a family to live downtown, it should equate to what the market cost is expected to be," Peterson said.

Peterson added that there are a lot of housing opportunities in the area.

"If you look around the Gulf Coast, you can see growth and more opportunities to move to apartments, to single family homes. I think it's smart for down here and I think every member at Keesler AFB will have an opportunity to live in a safe, secure, quality home".

General Peterson says he does not know yet when the bidding will begin for a private contractor, but the company will operate base housing for 50 years.