Soldiers face financial hardship in housing disagreement with Ottawa

by Murray Brewster

OTTAWA – At least 146 military families have suffered severe financial hardship because National Defence and the federal Treasury Board differ in their interpretation of an assistance program, federal documents show.

The disagreement involves a home-equity assistance program available to members of the military who move frequently and run the risk of taking a bath on sales of their properties.

Compensation is supposed to be available when a member is required to transfer and sells a home in a depressed housing market, but the two departments are odds over the definition of market.

Internal records show that between 2007 and 2010, 146 applications involving tens of thousands of dollars each were rejected by the Treasury Board, despite having the support of National Defence.

Military officials have been arguing for years without success for the policy to be tweaked.

The controversy surfaces just weeks after Defence Minister Peter MacKay forced an end to a similar dispute between his department and Treasury Board, when the agency that controls federal purse strings held up improved insurance payouts to reservists who lose limbs on duty.

It also comes just days after MacKay capped rent increases for newer members of the military, who live on bases across the country.

New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris the situation is shocking and must be demoralizing for those in those in uniform.

“The soldier has no choice but to move,and he’s taking a loss that’s been imposed on him by the military,” Harris said Thursday.

“They have a policy that says he’s to be reimbursed, yet he’s not. This is incompetence in following through on a policy that, first of all, makes sense, that has an element of justice in it because of the demands of the military.”

He said he believes situations like this “stick in the craw of members of the military, who are constantly being told by the politicians on the government side of the House that, ‘We support our troops.’”

But Harris added: “When the rubber hits the road on a cash thing like this, they fail to follow through.”

National Defence was asked for comment in mid-December and did not respond until late Thursday after the story appeared online.

In an email, spokeswoman Laura MacIntyre restated the government’s policy and hinted about potential changes, but said she couldn’t talk about them because of cabinet secrecy.

In the meantime, MacIntyre said the government could only offer advice to financially strapped families.

“Resources are available to CF members to assist them in making educated decisions when purchasing or selling a home,” she wrote.

Since 2009, Treasury Board has imposed a strict interpretation on who can qualify for full home equity assistance.

The documents show defence officials expressing concern about the “high rate” of rejections.

It all hinged on the definition of a “depressed market,” where the two government departments have differing interpretation of what constitutes a community.

When an application is approved, the member is entitled to a full reimbursement of their equity, but if it is rejected then the maximum payout is only $15,000 regardless the loss.

Officials at National Defence, in the compensation and benefits branch, tried to find a way around the impasse, suggesting the rejection payment cap, which has not be adjusted since 1999, be increased to reflect increased housing prices.

“I’m not sure how we would calculate the change in value, but keeping the same basic policy construct just with updated figures would seem more equitable and reasonable than selectively trying to make value decisions on individual cases,” wrote Lt.-Col Leslie Jones, military director of compensation and benefits, in an Aug. 13, 2009, email.

Meanwhile, several military families say they’re barely keeping their heads above water.

“I cannot make ends meet any more, and we’re in a financial spiral,” said Maj. Marcus Brauer, who is stationed in Halifax, and has fought for three years to resolve his own claim.

Brauer has moved more than five times in his 24 years with the air force, and lost $73,000 when he left Edmonton for the East Coast two years ago. He says his family is losing $2,000 a month carrying the debt burden, which has included higher interest and insurance costs because they have less equity

He’s appealed through the Canadian Forces grievance system, and even won the backing of former chief of defence staff, retired general Walt Natynczyk.

Military ombudsman Pierre Daigle described the home equity assistance program as an area of “serious concern” in his report to Parliament last spring. His office had investigated a number of complaints.

“Many of these circumstances are beyond the control of Canadian Forces members and can have severe and long-lasting financial and personal consequences,” the report said.

“The ombudsman’s office is concerned by the financial losses and the resulting distress being placed on military members and their families as a result of relocation.”

The Treasury Board policy remains unchanged.




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Soldiers face financial hardship in housing disagreement with Ottawa

  1. This makes me sick. These people defend our country. Damn government get off your can and just pay them. Without them, you wouldn’t have your cushy job.

    • The article is slanted and biased. It tricks you into thinking they are not well paid. A quick search of the web will turn up the truth. Search on canadian armed forces pay scale and learn the unvarnished truth that military pay in Canada is very very generous.

      You can do the same for the UK and USA. Military pay is much much more generous than regular civil service non-office job wages.

      • Yes, they get paid so well, they can afford a loss of 60k or more on a house… no problem. Really, should anyone have to do that for their job? If that happened to us, and we get paid fairly well, we would simply not be able to survive without a lot of outside help.
        We get paid well but what you don’t see are the added costs… not just the job itself and even the long months of living away from your family, sometimes never knowing if you will be able to come home to them again, but the simple costs of living on various bases your told to move to. Where we are, you would be hard pressed to find members without at least one second job… sure, some people have toys and the debt to go along with it, but others have no more than a low income family would have. People out here try to get a house when they can so they are not left struggling between heating, food, clothes and rent. Some areas have very high rents… and the drafty windows (though new) don’t give much of a break with heating, not even all our rooms heat and the solution they can up with was for us to keep the doors open, or get vented ones installed, to keep them from freezing. The housing available to the military in some places is indeed at great cost, and where vacancies outside and house prices unreachable, there is little choice… but fear not, instead of raising rents another scheduled near $100 extra a month this year, they decided to give people $10 off and consider the problems solved. Yes, we feel so lucky. Happily, we got gifts of free food this holiday and we are trying to stretch it as far as we can, again, we are lucky to be doing so well.

      • I assume you have never been in the military. The military is a non-union Government job. You can be ordered to work 20 hours a day, seven days a week if required. NO overtime or time off in lieu! A transfer to another location that may not have adequate PMQs (housing) may mean you go alone, leaving your family behind for months on end. If you’re unlucky enough to get sent to a a war zone you may not see your family for 6 to 12 months! As an ex military person ( over five years) and a civil servant (thirty-three years) I can guarantee you the military on an equitable ranking system make about the same and in a lot of cases, less. Combat pay does not come close to what Government employees get for living abroad (External Affairs, CIDA etc) and the living conditions beat a tent or barracks! When the civil servants get evacuated when the situation in-country goes sour, the military stay back, grab their rifles and fight! I suggest you join up as a Regular, or even a Reserve and find out that “There’s No life Like it”.On your return post another comment!

  2. Does this surprise Canadians, NO. Do the Government of Canada Support The Troops. Like Hell. There is more the Public needs to know about how the troops are been treated by the Government they PROTECT. All you have to do is talk to MP Geoff Regan and MP Peter Stoffer. The stores are out there.

  3. Google canadian armed forces pay scale and you’ll get a link to a forces.ca webpage that gives the base salary range for major at running from 8222 to 9220 per month ($98,664 to $110,640 per year). And in some military occupations the pay scale goes much higher.

    Do writers and editors at Macleans really feel $110,640 per year is a hardship wage?

      • The wages are not the point of this article. The fact that members should not have to bear 70,000 losses because they are forced to move is.

        Also, you should also realize that if your a major in the military you have many years of service and hold a masters degree. Most individuals could be earning more money with their education and experience outside the forces.

        Lower ranks such as privates and corporals are also affected by this issue. Trust me, they make much less.

      • This is the page you want to be looking at: http://www.forces.ca/en/page/payscales-131#ncmsregular-3
        this better represents your average (being corporal and master corporal, non-spec, though it’s not always easy at some higher pay grades), though it’s nothing anyone should have to deal with regardless of what they make.

    • We are paid at a fairly high pay scale, probably the most we shall ever see in the entirely of a career and get nowhere near 90k. We no longer own a house, took a loss on it actually but faired better than many. We have a small second hand car, one tv, our computers (which are not new)… actually the only newish things we own are the appliances because they were sold with the house to increase it’s saleability (couldn’t make it move without them). We have also been sent to live in one of the most expensive bases in Canada where the rents are insane, heating and electric is unpredictable do to fluctuating and high services charges, access to shopping beyond Walmart and Canadian Tire as well as extra medical services are nearly four hours away and often require over night stays… I still would, however, like the cheaper payments on a home again than dumping money into a PMQ (CF housing), but after loosing money there is nothing left and we struggled with second jobs.

      As for your average of $98, even before taxes, wow, that would be nice, might even make living bearable out here

  4. I am disappointed to learn that the Treasury Board Secretariet can arbitrarily negate & deny applications that meet the criteria of the C.F.policy & are supported by the Canadian Forces leaders.

    Being posted wherever & whenever the Canadian Forces needs one’s service is a requirement of military service.There is a policy, The Home equity Entitlement for relocating members, in place to protect these individuals from the devastating impacts of a volatile market. Many of these soldiers made their decisions to purchase a home based on the existance of this policy and when they were forced to relocate in unfavorable conditions, the policy failed them.

    This is unfair to those who have already agreed to accept tremendous personal sacrifice in order to defend Canadain interests.

  5. If we want to continue to attract the best of our young people into the military, then this kind of travesty must end. Families should not have to live in poverty or risk bankruptcy in order to serve Canada. When will this supposedly pro military government step up and do the right thing? Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay should be ashamed.

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