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A missed opportunity for affordable housing

November 2017

The Justin Trudeau government recently announced a national housing strategy to help 530, 000 vulnerable families find housing and hopefully cut homelessness by 50% over the next 10 years.

The $11.2 billion plan will create 100, 000 new housing units and repair 300, 000 existing units. Along with funding from other levels of government, the funding could reach up to $40 billion.

While this is definitely a worthy initiative, a big question that I have is where was this kind of initiative and concern for homelessness when federal governments from both the Liberals and Conservatives were downsizing our military over the last half-century and disposing of unneeded bases and their infrastructure, particularly housing, including the much maligned Permanent Married Quarters (PMQs) that have been inhabited by our service members since the early 1950s?

In recent years, I have personally seen several hundred PMQs demolished at former and current bases in southern Ontario in Toronto, Oakville, Ottawa (Rockcliffe), Oro-Medonte Township and Borden, which while still an active base, have cut their supply of PMQs by more than half.

Other cities across Canada like Chilliwack, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary have also seen their PMQs demolished. Most of these properties have been re-developed into high-end housing or at least housing that is not considered “affordable housing.”

Of course, the market delivers what people want, which is understandable. If you’re a developer, you have a right to make as much money as you can and if people are buying your houses, it’s good for business.  As a capitalist and somewhat of a Libertarian, who am I to complain in that regard.

My problem is with the federal government selling off the property and homes with no apparent concern for what becomes of it. Is it too much to ask for the feds to retain these properties and rent or sell the homes (to either stay on the property or to be moved) as affordable housing?

Sure, the majority of these wood-frame former PMQs were built in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, often without suitable insulation, under construction codes that are insufficient by today’s standards and some without basements.

However, as any homeowner or building manager knows, if you take care of your building properly and update to conform to current codes, it can reasonably last for hundreds of years. Next time you’re driving through the countryside, take note of all the century-old farmhouses.

There are many armouries across Canada that are over 100 years old and the Gothic Revival-style Centre Block portion of Canada’s Parliament building is almost 100 years old (the Parliament Hill Library is older than that).

The Canadian Forces Housing Agency (CFHA), the managing agency for all PMQs at active bases, have been upgrading PMQs across Canada with things such as new siding, upgraded insulation, heating systems and waterlines to ensure their viability for many years to come.

This is in addition to the dozens of former PMQs at closed bases that have been sold to the private sector and continue to be lived in by families.

By having a plan to retain these former military housing units to be managed by the CFHA or similar agency, how many affordable housing units could be provided to needy families?

I personally watched 86 former PMQs at a former Royal Canadian Air Force radar station north of Barrie left vacant and deteriorating to the point where they had to be demolished. PMQs at numerous other (sometimes remotely located) former Pinetree and DEW Line radar stations have been left to a similar fate.

At some former bases, barracks that once housed single personnel have been converted into apartment buildings.

Sometimes it’s simply not economically viable to retain buildings, especially if they have to be moved to another location. Some former bases are far from major cities and the PMQs or converted barracks may prove to be impractical for those who can’t afford the commute for jobs, but for those who are able to commute, it could be a realistic option.

Demolition of perfectly serviceable housing units should be avoided if possible if we are going to effectively combat the affordable housing shortage.

This certainly isn’t the only solution to the chronic shortage of affordable housing in Canada, but it’s an option that shouldn’t be ignored.


About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/a-missed-opportunity-for-affordable-housing/

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