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Service Eases Stress of Renting, Furnishing Overseas Home

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan, April 14, 1997 – Talk about stress! You arrive at your overseas assignment, family in tow and learn base housing won't be available for at least six months. You'll have to find a place in town.

Trouble is, you're in a foreign country you've never before visited, you can't read or speak the language, and you don't know one yen from 1,000.

Nevertheless, you take a deep breath, hunch your shoulders and venture forth. Even with your sponsor there to guide you, you're faced with the difficulty of finding a place covered by your housing allowance and with a security deposit that won't wipe out your checking account.

After getting over the shock of learning just how little space $1,000 a month buys, you get the disheartening news you'll lose the entire deposit (half a month's rent) if you move out before the one-year lease expires.

Welcome to Okinawa, pal.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way. These days, service members and DoD employees coming to Okinawa get a big helping hand finding affordable off-base housing. The big hand belongs to Joe Edmond, Kadena housing support chief, and a staff of more than 500, and to an Okinawan real estate agents association that removes most of the obstacles to finding a place to live. Working out of the Kadena housing office, they offer their service islandwide.

"Our doors are open to everyone, regardless of rank or service branch," Edmond said. "A real estate agents' association representative meets inbound families, identifies their work location, then connects them directly with realty agents in the civilian community nearest their base."

Those agents speak English fluently and understand the DoD housing allowance system. In addition, they provide transportation to all potential housing. Under the compact, renters pay only the pro rata share of the lease deposit if they stay less than the full period of the lease.

Sponsorship and relocation packages include information about the housing assistance program begun in 1996. During the slowest rental period, November through January, more than 70 families a month used the service, Edmond said. He expects four times that many during the summer, when most assignments occur.

Besides managing housing on and off base, Edmond's office provides another useful item for newcomers -- furniture. The $89 million warehouse inventory includes 800,000 pieces of furniture and 60,000 appliances.

"These are high-quality furnishings and very well maintained," Edmond said. "When you get a piece of furniture from us, it will look as if it's brand new." Even so, a 10-year, $10 million program will replace all the furniture with new, even higher-quality items, such as $1,000+ dining room sets. "We're buying higher-quality furniture for better maintainability," he said. So far, he's bought enough furnishings to fill 1,000 homes -- and will eventually buy enough to fill 14,000 homes.

"People coming to Okinawa for the first time experience a bewildering world of changes," Edmond said. "We've designed our services to eliminate some of that bewilderment. If, after you arrive here, you can quickly settle into comfortable, affordable housing, you'll have a big leg up on a successful assignment" -- a "big leg up" thanks to Joe Edmond's big hand.

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