Chief of Staff Sounds the Alarm on Military Housing Costs

OTTAWA — The chief of the Defense Staff says military members are feeling the brunt of the sharp rise in the cost of housing and other goods and services because of their unique lifestyles, and more needs to be done in housing matter in the bases.

Gen. Wayne Eyre said Thursday that a lack of affordable housing and increasing difficulty making ends meet emerged as service members’ top complaints to their superiors.

“The No. 1 issue that comes up when I travel across the country is the cost of living and the challenges that our people face in terms of finding affordable housing,” Eyre said at a luncheon for Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

The chief of staff said that while many Canadians face the same challenges, the impacts are particularly acute on the military, who must travel frequently to different bases and locations across the country.

An internal report from the “Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services” unit revealed in 2018 that one in four service members must relocate each year due to training or operational needs of the Armed Forces.

General Eyre specifically referred to what he described as a housing shortage on military bases. “Right now we are short between 4,000 and 6,000 units in our bases, which also accentuates the housing problem,” he said.

According to an internal Defense Department report on military housing, released in December, there were some 12,000 units nationwide, providing housing for about 20 percent of members of the military.

Although occupancy rates vary by location, the report found that units were close to capacity, especially as 10% to 15% of all units are unavailable at any given time, for maintenance or other reasons.

Retain and hire staff

The report also found that the “cost of living differential” paid in some communities is insufficient, since the current rate has been frozen since 2009.

General Eyre believes these cost-of-living issues and lack of affordable housing are making it difficult for the military to retain trained and experienced personnel, which has become a key issue in recent years.

The Canadian Armed Forces would currently need thousands more soldiers, a fact the chief of staff underlined during his speech at the working lunch. He thus warned that the elastic band was stretched to the maximum, while the requests for contributions do not stop growing, inside and outside.

General Eyre says many in the military are worn out by the relentless pace of the past two years. He cites in particular the support for Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as during various natural disasters and numerous overseas deployments.

Around the same time, on Thursday, Defense Minister Anita Anand announced the deployment of 150 Canadian soldiers to Poland to help deal with the refugee crisis. This is the latest addition to a growing list of implementations in Europe.

General Eyre also points out that while Russia is currently in the spotlight, concerns about Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region have not gone away, while extremist groups and even climate change are still present.

The growing number of threats and lawsuits at home and abroad also came as pandemic restrictions limited recruiting and training, not to mention allegations of sexual misconduct against senior officers, undermining the image of the military.

All of this underscored the importance of changing the culture of the military to make it a more attractive place to work, but also the pressing need to retain those already in uniform, General Eyre argued Thursday.

“We need to work harder and faster because the international security environment demands it,” he said. “There is a dangerous and uncertain future ahead and it is not going to wait until we are ready. So we have to be ready now.”

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