Military urged to contact Habitat for Humanity for housing

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OTTAWA — An email encouraging members of the Canadian Armed Forces to consider contacting Habitat for Humanity if they are unable to find affordable housing highlights a growing challenge faced by many personnel military and their families.

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

“In addition to our discussion this morning, a possible housing option for our people is Habitat for Humanity,” the email dated May 5 read. “If this is of interest to someone on your staff, please ask them to review the information found here.”

The email, confirmed as authentic by the Department of National Defense, included a link and contact information for the charity’s North Vancouver Island chapter along with a list of criteria for applying for a home.

Department of Defense spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said members were not being directed to Habitat for Humanity, but instead presented it as an option for those who had “significant difficulty” finding housing.

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“As far as we know,” he added, “this has not been an option presented or explored by CAF members in other regions of the country.”

But the email has highlighted growing complaints and concerns about the impact skyrocketing house prices and rents are having on members of Canada’s Armed Forces, and Ottawa’s repeated failure to provide enough military housing. .

Defense Chief of Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre warned last month that his troops were feeling the pinch from soaring house prices and other living costs as a result of their unique lifestyles, which include moving constant throughout their careers.

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At the same time, Eyre lamented the military housing shortage, saying, “We’re now somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 units short on our bases, which is also exacerbating the housing problem.”

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Online forums are teeming with members of the Armed Forces discussing the current housing crisis, and some are about to scramble for advice on how to find affordable housing in markets where even rental prices are sky-high.

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, the real estate agents say they have seen firsthand the stress many troops and their families face.

“The last two years have been exceptionally difficult for them,” said realtor 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.”

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

“It’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure for both the staff and the realtors,” said Andolfatto, who has worked with military families for 34 years. “Anyone who is not classified as an officer will find it difficult.”

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

While he couldn’t say exactly how the May 5 email came about, West suspected it had to do with a recent meeting the organization had with a high-ranking official.

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“I think basically what happened is we went out and talked to him about what we’re doing, just staying in touch, and this email came out of leadership,” he said.

While he can’t say for sure if any of the 39 local Habitat for Humanity homes built since 2004 have gone to members of the military, West said he was not aware of any such deals to date.

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

In fact, the Armed Forces have advised service members 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 Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported in February that “rent affordability continues to pose a significant challenge across the country.”

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Andolfatto can testify to that reality in Kingston.

“I would go so far as to say that some of our rentals here are stronger than some of the rentals you would find in the GTA,” he said. “I would argue that renting is just as problematic and, in fact, even more challenging.”

Many bases have military housing. But even as internal Defense Department assessments have repeatedly asserted since 2017 that at least 5,000 more units are needed to meet growing military requirements, the number of government-owned homes has been steadily declining for years.

The Defense Department 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.

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Yet four years after that plan was first floated, only 16 units are under construction and none have been completed.

Meanwhile, an internal review published in December warned that at current funding levels, the CFHA has not been able to adequately maintain the 12,000 units it now has in its pipeline, with nearly one in five rated “below average.” .

Not all members of the Armed Forces struggle, including those whose required moves led them to buy or sell at the right time or place, said Alan Okros, a professor at Canadian Forces College.

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

But Okros said there’s no denying that some troops are having a hard time and the problem is emerging as a major factor in retaining personnel.

“CAF lacks people,” he said. “It becomes: ‘Do you really want to lose someone by sending them from a cheap city to an expensive city, basically forcing them to quit rather than move?'”

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

“But it’s really stressful,” he said. “My heart goes out to them.”

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