An email encouraging members of the Canadian Armed Forces to consider contacting Habitat for Humanity if they can’t find affordable housing is casting a spotlight on a growing challenge facing military personnel and their families.
The email was sent by a senior officer at 19 Wing Comox to other members at the Royal Canadian Air Force base on northern Vancouver Island, which is home to the military’s search-and-rescue school as well as several squadrons of aircraft.
“Further to our discussion this morning, one potential housing option for our folks is Habitat for Humanity,” said the email dated May 5. “Should this be of interest to any of your personnel, please have them review the information located here.”
The email, confirmed as authentic by the Department of National Defence, included a link and contact information for the charity’s northern Vancouver Island chapter along with a list of criteria to apply for a home.
Defence Department spokesperson Jessica Lamirande said members weren’t being directed to Habitat for Humanity, but rather that it was being presented as an option to those having “significant difficulty” finding housing.
“To the best of our knowledge, this has not been an option presented or explored by CAF members in other regions of the country.”
Military housing shortfall
But the email has highlighted growing complaints and concerns about the impact skyrocketing home and rental prices are having on members of Canada’s Armed Forces — and Ottawa’s repeated failure to provide enough military housing.
Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, warned last month his troops were feeling the bite of escalating housing prices and other costs of living as a result of their unique lifestyles, which include constant moves throughout their careers.
At the same time, Eyre lamented a shortage of military housing, saying: “Now we’re somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4,000 to 6,000 units short on our bases, which is also accentuating the housing problem.”
Online forums are rife with Armed Forces members discussing the current housing crunch, with some on the verge of moving desperate for advice on how to find affordable accommodation in markets where even rental prices are sky high.
A spokesperson for Habitat for Humanity Vancouver Island North said he wasn’t sure whether any of the 39 local homes built by the charity since 2004 had gone to military members.
While several Armed Forces members who were contacted declined to comment because they did not have permission to conduct an interview, real estate agents say they have seen first hand the stress many troops and their families face.
‘Exceptionally tough’ for military families
“The last couple years have been exceptionally, exceptionally tough for them,” said Tracy Fogtmann, a Realtor who works with military families relocating to the Comox area. “I’ve been in the business for 19 years and have never seen anything like this.”
The situation is similar in other military communities such as Kingston, Ont., where broker Luca Andolfatto has seen the stress many troops, their families and even their Realtors are feeling.
“It’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure both on the personnel themselves and on the Realtors,” said Andolfatto, who has worked with military families for 34 years. “Anyone who isn’t ranked as an officer would find it a struggle.”
The Armed Forces has actually advised service members against buying a home, warning in March that some bases are located in “unpredictable and seemingly inflated housing markets,” and that a price correction was expected.
Many bases have military housing. But even as internal Defence Department assessments have repeatedly asserted since 2017 that at least 5,000 more units are needed to meet the military’s growing requirements, the number of homes owned by government has steadily decreased for years.