Canadian military members told Habitat for Humanity is an option amid housing shortage

An email encouraging members of the Canadian Forces to contact Habitat for Humanity if they cannot find affordable housing sheds the spotlight on a growing challenge facing military personnel and their families.

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

“Following up on our discussion this morning, Habitat for Humanity is a potential housing option for our people,” the May 5 email said. “If this is of interest to one of your employees, have them view the information here.”

The email, which was confirmed as authentic by the Department of National Defense, contained a link and contact information for the charity in north Vancouver Island, along with a list of criteria for applying for a home.

Defense Department spokesman Jessica Lamirande said members were not being referred to Habitat for Humanity, but rather it was presented as an option for those who are having “significant difficulty” finding housing.

“To our knowledge, this has not been an option suggested or explored by CAF members in other regions of the country.”

Military housing shortage

But the email has raised mounting complaints and concerns about the impact skyrocketing housing and rent prices are having on members of the Canadian Forces — and Ottawa’s repeated failure to provide adequate military housing.

General Wayne Eyre, chief of the defense staff, warned last month that his troops were feeling the bite of rising house prices and other living costs due to their unique lifestyles, which included constant movement throughout their careers.

At the same time, Eyre complained about a military housing shortage, saying, “Now we are somewhere in the range of 4,000 to 6,000 units short at our bases, which also accentuates the housing problem.”

Online forums are rife with members of the armed forces discussing the current housing crisis, with some on the brink of relocating, desperate for advice on finding affordable accommodation in markets where even rents are skyrocketing.

A Habitat for Humanity Vancouver Island North spokesperson said he wasn’t sure if any of the 39 local homes built by the charity since 2004 had gone to military members.

While several members of the armed forces contacted declined to comment because they were not authorized to conduct an interview, brokers say they have seen firsthand the stress many troops and their families face.

‘Extremely cool’ for military families

“The last few years have been exceptionally, exceptionally tough for them,” said Tracy Fogtmann, a real estate agent who works with military families relocating 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 real estate agent Luca Andolfatto has seen the stress many troops, their families and even their brokers are feeling.

Real estate agent Luca Andolfatto, shown Saturday in Kingston, Ontario, which has a large military presence, has seen the stress Canadian troops, their families and even real estate agents feel about housing affordability. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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

The armed forces have even advised service workers not to buy a home, warning in March that some bases are in “unpredictable and seemingly inflated housing markets” and a price correction was expected.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported in February that “the affordability of rental housing across the country continues to be a major challenge.”

Many bases have military residences. But while internal Defense Department assessments have repeatedly claimed that at least 5,000 additional units are needed to meet the military’s growing demands since 2017, the number of government-owned homes has been steadily declining for years.

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