The Department of National Defence intends to build an 84-unit apartment complex at CFB Esquimalt, a move welcomed by Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, as the vacancy rate in the area hovers around 1.5 per cent.
Desjardins said a lack of housing on the base has led to many base workers and Canadian Forces personnel living in the Western Communities and even over the Malahat in pursuit of affordable accommodation.
“The biggest challenge [Canadian Forces has] is the affordability factor of our region — that is affecting their ability to find housing outside of base housing,” she said. The Township of Esquimalt has tried to encourage new construction near the base to allow families to live close to work or the Esquimalt graving dock, reducing the need for a family vehicle, she said. “But it still seems they are having to live two or three to a unit.”
The Department of National Defence, which did not provide any detail about the timing or location of the apartment project, said it is facing housing challenges across the country. It noted 85 per cent of members find accommodations on the private market, while only 15 per cent live in military housing.
In Greater Victoria, DND has 709 residential housing units in several municipalities, including Esquimalt and Colwood. All but 20 are currently occupied, and of those, 18 are being prepared for new personnel to move in and two are being renovated.
Another 745 households are waiting for military housing.
Desjardins said over the past five years, Esquimalt has approved more than 2,700 housing units, many of which are under construction.
But she said more needs to be done, and she was heartened to see Premier David Eby engage Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the prospect of using federally owned military land for new housing, and increasing density on military bases, which could take some pressure off the broader housing market.
“It just makes sense,” said Desjardins. “We have a fair amount of property with minimal or very low density down at [places like Work Point in Esquimalt] that could really facilitate more opportunity for housing.”
Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bruce Williams said it’s a good sign that senior leaders are discussing the prospect, given the housing shortage both on and off the base.
“Conversations like this have been undertaken in the past, but this is the first time I can recall when senior decision makers have addressed it,” he said.
In a statement provided to the Times Colonist, DND said the Canadian Forces Housing Agency is developing a construction program to increase the availability of housing for members at several locations across the country, in line with operational and housing requirements.
“We are also exploring other options to increase the availability of accommodations in Esquimalt,” it said. “While it is still too early to discuss those options, we want to reassure the community that we are doing everything we can to assist with the housing shortage as it affects CAF members, and all Canadians, across the country.”
>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org