- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - As the Army thins its ranks, competition to fill rental homes around and even on Fort Bragg is heating up.

The private company managing homes on Fort Bragg announced this week it is recruiting Defense Department civilians and easing eligibility requirements to allow Army sergeants into its 120 new, luxury apartments for singles.

“Those individuals would normally go out into the economy and stay out there,” Corvias Military Living property manager Jorge Jatib said Friday.

Starting last month, military retirees, civilian Defense Department employees and the families of slain soldiers were invited to live behind Fort Bragg’s gates in vacant housing managed by Corvias. The East Greenwich, Rhode Island-based company and is telling local military families they could recover moving expenses if they come on post.

Military retirees and Defense Department civilian workers are already allowed to live on other military installations, including the Army’s Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina. But with about 10 percent of the Army’s soldiers, Fort Bragg is the biggest installation with such a broad residence eligibility.

Competition for renters is expected to increase with the Army paring back payrolls from a high of 570,000 soldiers during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The new Fort Bragg singles units and the 430 one- and two-bedrooms already open at Randolph Pointe are designed to compete against off-post complexes with full-size washers and dryers, garages, pool, 24-hour maintenance and included utilities, cable and Internet. The apartments are walking distance to subsidized on-post shopping and a major headquarters office complex.

Newly eligible civilian military employees living at a similar complex about 6 miles from the base received emails inviting them to look at Randolph Point, said Jessica Smith, property manager of Plantation At Fayetteville.

“I guess the market and the demand for occupying those units has gotten very ruthless,” she said.

The Plantation’s apartments are about 89 percent occupied, Smith said. Corvias’ Fort Bragg properties are about 90 percent occupied, Jatib said.

The majority of the rent from the 6,450 homes and more than 500 apartments it manages are reinvested in quality maintenance, Jatib said. The company is 12 years into a 50-year agreement with Fort Bragg.

The Army had about 510,000 soldiers in October and is slated to trim another 20,000 troops by September. Tens of thousands more soldiering slots are projected to disappear in each of the next two years.

The 49,500 soldiers assigned to Fort Bragg are about 500 fewer than in October 2013, Fort Bragg spokesman Ben Abel said. The post has about 200 fewer civilian employees, he said.

About 35,000 soldiers, family members and others lived on Fort Bragg, according to an Army report released last summer. The report on the potential impacts of force reductions at U.S. bases projected a worst-case scenario for the end of this decade in which Fort Bragg lost almost 14,000 soldiers and 2,400 civilians.

That scenario “could lead to significant impacts to the population, regional economy, schools, and housing,” the report said, but Fort Bragg likely would remain the country’s largest Army post.

Final decisions on which installations face cuts have not been made and the Army is in the process of hosting community listening sessions nationwide to hear public input.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio .

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