Island military urged to contact Habitat for Humanity amid housing crisis

OTTAWA – An email encouraging members of the Canadian Armed Forces to consider contacting Habitat for Humanity if they cannot find affordable housing highlights a growing challenge faced by many service members and their families.

The email was sent by a senior officer at 19 Wing Comox to other members of the Royal Canadian Air Force base on northern Vancouver Island, which is home to the military search and rescue school as well than several aircraft squadrons.

“Following our discussion this morning, a potential housing option for our people is Habitat for Humanity,” the May 5 email said. “If any of your employees are interested, please have them view the information located here.”

The email, the authenticity of which has been confirmed by the Department of National Defence, included a link and contact information for the charity’s North Vancouver Island branch, as well as a list of criteria for applying. a house.

Defense Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said members were not directed to Habitat for Humanity, but rather it was presented as an option to those who had “significant difficulty” in to find accommodation.

“To the best of our knowledge,” she added, “this has not been an option presented or explored by CAF members in other parts of the country.”

But the email highlighted growing complaints and concerns about the impact that soaring house prices and rents are having on members of the Canadian Armed Forces – and Ottawa’s repeated failure to provide enough military housing. .

Chief of the Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre warned last month that his troops were feeling the bite of escalating housing prices and other living costs due to their lifestyle unique, which includes constant moves throughout their careers.

At the same time, Eyre lamented a shortage of military housing, stating, “Now we are 4,000 to 6,000 units short on our bases, which also compounds the housing problem.”

Online forums are full of members of the Armed Forces discussing the current housing crisis, with some on the verge of desperately seeking advice on how to find affordable housing in markets where even rental prices are exorbitant.

While several members of the Armed Forces contacted by The Canadian Press declined to comment because they did not have permission to conduct an interview, real estate agents say they have seen firsthand the stress many soldiers and their families are under. confronted.

“The last two years have been exceptionally, exceptionally difficult for them,” said real estate agent Tracy Fogtmann, who works with military families moving to the Comox area. “I’ve been in the business for 19 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The situation is similar in other military communities such as Kingston, Ontario, where broker Luca Andolfatto has seen the stress felt by many military members, their families and even their real estate agents.

“It’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure both on the staff themselves and on the real estate agents,” said Andolfatto, who has worked with military families for 34 years. “Anyone not ranked as an officer would find it difficult.”

Jeff West is the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity North Vancouver Island. He said the charity has a long-standing working relationship with 19 Wing Comox, with members of the Armed Forces having previously volunteered to build local homes for those in need.

While he couldn’t say exactly how the May 5 email arrived, West suspected it had to do with a recent meeting the organization had with a senior officer.

“I think what happened was we went out and talked to him about what we were doing, just maintaining contact, and this email came out of management,” he said. he declares.

While unable to say for sure if any of the 39 local Habitat for Humanity homes built since 2004 went to the military, West said he was unaware of any such arrangements at this day.

But he acknowledged that a “housing crisis” is affecting both military and non-military families in the area.

The armed forces actually advised the military against buying a home, warning in March that some bases are located in “unpredictable and seemingly inflated real estate markets” and that a price correction was expected.

Meanwhile, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported in February that “rent affordability continues to pose a significant challenge across the country.”

Andolfatto can testify to this reality in Kingston.

“Some of our rents here, I assume, are higher than some of the rents you would find in the GTA,” he said. “I would say that renting is just as problematic, and in fact even more difficult.”

Many bases have military housing. But even though internal MoD assessments have repeatedly asserted since 2017 that at least 5,000 more units are needed to meet growing military needs, the number of government-owned houses has steadily declined for decades. years.

The Ministry of Defense says the Canadian Forces Housing Agency has proposed a plan to build 1,300 new units over a 10-year period and consider ‘alternative delivery options’ such as leases and public-private partnerships for the rest.

However, four years after this plan was first drawn up, only 16 units are under construction and none have been completed.

Meanwhile, an internal review released in December warned that at current funding levels, CFHA has been unable to properly sustain the 12,000 units currently in its portfolio, with nearly one in five classified. as “below average”.

Not all members of the Armed Forces are in trouble, including those whose necessary moves have caused them to buy or sell at the right time or place, said Alan Okros, a professor at the Canadian Forces College.

The military also offers a number of perks to help offset the costs.

But Okros said it was undeniable that some troops were struggling and the problem was emerging as a major factor in staff retention.

“CAF is so short of people,” he said. “It becomes, ‘Do you really want to lose someone by moving them from a cheap town to an expensive town, which basically forces them to quit rather than move?’

Back in Comox, Fogtmann continues to try to match incoming service members with new homes for themselves and their families.

“‘But it’s really stressful,’ she said. ‘My heart is with them.’

Lee Berthiaume/The Canadian Press

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 23, 2022.

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