ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Where spruce trees grew six months ago, 120 new homes have sprouted up on Elmendorf Air Force Base, the first privately financed housing on base and an attempt to improve living quarters for airmen and their families.
Brig. Gen. Douglas Fraser snapped a ceremonial ribbon Wednesday and handed front-door keys to Tech. Sgt. Brian Hartley, who will move into the new housing Monday with his wife, Sylvia, and sons Josh and Nathan.
''This is going to increase the quality of life for our members,'' Fraser said.
Under the Private Sector Housing Initiative, approved by Congress in 1996, the private firm Aurora Military Housing is spending $111.5 million to build new homes and renovate others. The company will manage the homes.
The federal government loaned $48 million for the project and Alaska Housing Finance Corp. loaned another $48 million.
Fifty homes will be ready for occupancy Monday. Eight to 16 of the first 120 units will open for families each week through mid-November.
In all, the company will build 372 new two- and three-bedroom homes in the development by December 2002. The company also will renovate 200 existing homes, demolish 176 existing units and construct 48 new duplexes by August 2003.
By the time the project is complete, Aurora will own and manage 828 housing units on base.
Fraser said the new homes and the renovations are sorely needed. No new homes have been built on base since the 1970s. The base has a waiting list of 700 families who want on-base housing. The families wait an average of two years to get it.
''That list is a reflection of how many people, if we had housing, would live on base,'' Fraser said.
Standard military construction procedures would have delayed construction for years, Fraser said.
The new homes will be occupied by enlisted personnel, mostly noncommissioned officers, with some higher and some lower ranks, Fraser said.
The unit open for display Wednesday featured three bedrooms, including a master bedroom with a walk-in closet. The unit had 1,850 square feet, two and a half bathrooms, a combination living room and dining room, a family room, utility room, attached one-car garage and fenced-in back yard.
Fraser said the Air Force strives for 55 percent retention of airmen after their first tour. Substandard housing can be a powerful disincentive to staying in the service.
With airmen facing extended duty away from their families, Fraser said, ''You can see why it's important to have people have nice, comfortable housing if their loved ones are called away.''
Edwin R. ''Ted'' Franklin, Elmendorf's privatization officer, said airmen receive a monthly housing allowance of about $800. If airmen have families, and they live off base, it often means a long drive to work or a second job for affordable housing.
''It just can't rent you a lot,'' Franklin said of the housing allowance. ''They are spread from here to Wasilla trying to make ends meet.''
Base housing means safe streets, a sense of familiarity to new arrivals, and a quick response if an appliance or furnace breaks down. Soldiers serving overseas can concentrate on their duties if they are not worrying about their families, Franklin said.
''We're trying to give them reliability,'' Franklin said.
When the housing project is complete, it should lower the time on the housing waiting list to about a year, Fraser said.
Elmendorf is the fourth Air Force Base to participate in the Private Sector Housing initiative. The base has 6,500 active duty personnel.
Aurora Military Housing is made up of partners JL Properties of Anchorage and Hunt Building Corp. of San Antonio, Texas, said JL Properties chairman Jon Rubini.
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