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Looking for a new home? Fort Drum invites civilians to live on base

Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes
Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes is offering 1100 square feet, 2-bedroom homes for rent at $1,000 a month.

There’s a glut of housing in towns surrounding Fort Drum. With thousands of troops deployed, many houses and apartment complexes in the area are empty, including the homes on base. Now, housing on Fort Drum is available to all civilians, even those who don’t work on post.  Anyone who passes a background check is welcomed to rent a home on Fort Drum.

Joe McLaughlin is working on his sales pitch. For a thousand dollars a month, he says you can get a 2-bedroom house with an attached garage, electricity and heat included.

“Any civilian who moves on base might get the chance to meet a real live soldier,” McLaughlin said.

Mclauglin is with Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes, the company that runs and operates all the housing on post.  He says welcoming civilian to live on Fort Drum is purely a business decision.

“If your apartments aren’t full you don’t have the revenue you need to run the day to day operations,” he said.

McLaughlin needs people to live in these houses on post to help pay for the upkeep on his company’s 4,000 housing units. Fort Drum is one of only a handful of bases across the country opening their gates to regular folks. But McLaughlin says, so far there’s an issue.

“We haven’t had anyone move in yet, just two or three inquiries at this point.”

Credit Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes
Joe McLaughlin said "more than 10 homes" are available for rent on Fort Drum. Only a few people have inquired on the homes so far. "We are still in the beginning stages of advertising this," he said.

This got me wondering if convincing someone in Watertown to live on Fort Drum is a tough sell.  Jefferson County responded to the area’s housing shortage a few years ago by building more apartment complexes for soldiers, everywhere. Now even persuading a military family to live on base can be a challenge. Leesa Harvey-Dowdle works and lives in Watertown. She says she would consider living on base.

“I think I would feel safe and secure on post and have access to everything I needed there,” Harvey-Dowdle said.

Harvey-Dowdle says she’s taken a tour of those apartments on base and they’re nice. There’s a playground, a splash park for the kids, some great landscaping. Fort Drum is like a little city in itself. The base has grocery stores, gyms, even a Burger King.

But there’s a catch. McLaughlin explains.

“Our civilians are not allowed to use our post exchange our department store or any of the facilities on post. You have to be a ID holder to use those facilities,” McLaughlin said.

That gives Harvey-Dowdle second thoughts.

“If I was banned or limited from frequenting those place I don’t think I would feel like I’m in a welcoming community on post.”

And if you throw a lot of dinner parties, consider this: Any guest who plans to visit your home on base requires a full background check and an escort at the gate when they arrive. Civilians who live near Fort Drum have more choices on where to live than ever before. So, McLaughlin has to work really hard to make living on post seem worth it. His company set aside $80 million to replace older houses on base with brand new ones. They hope to start the project this fall to get an edge on the competition.