OTTAWA — The stock of housing at military bases across the country is badly managed, a federal watchdog says, with personnel paying cut-rate rent in some locations and needed renovations delayed by badly timed funding.
Indeed, Auditor General Michael Ferguson says some of the government-provided housing might not be needed at all but says the defence department hasn’t done the necessary analysis of private housing markets or its own requirements.
In a report released Tuesday, Ferguson urged changes in how the Department of National Defence managed the portfolio of some 12,000 units at 25 locations across the country. About 15 per cent of all armed forces personnel live in military housing.
“National Defence is spending millions on military housing without having clearly defined its needs,” Ferguson said.
He said the department has not clearly defined who in the armed forces should receive housing, what type of housing is needed or where it should be located. That’s partly because the defence department’s living accommodation policy is almost nine years out of date.
Ferguson noted that an external panel recommended in 2010 that the defence department could get by with 5,800 units in 30 locations.
But that recommendation was rejected by defence planners as too low and instead they approved a total of 11,858 units in 2012. That included 1,500 units to be vacant at any given time for renovation and maintenance, a number that Ferguson suggested is high.
Ferguson noted as well that rental rents for military housing in locations like Bagotville, Edmonton and Winnipeg where below market rates, giving an unfair financial advantage to the members who lived in these units.
Most of the units—managed by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency — were built between 1948 and 1960 and need of renovation and updating. But Ferguson found problems here too, saying the defence department lacks a plan to modernize the portfolio.
The department itself is even in the dark about the state of the housing because software problems have prevented updates to a national database since 2014, the auditors found.
“Without an adequate and approved long-term plan, the agency cannot ensure that the funds spend on housing units were used effectively to better meet current and future housing needs,” the audit report says.
Renovations are also hindered because the defence department allocates its capital funding, about $37 million a year, in installments that do not match the construction cycle.
For example, the housing agency that manages the stock of units got $6 million in January, 2015 with just two months to spend it.
“It did not have enough time to allocate funds to highest priority work that could be carried out by the end of the fiscal year,” the audit report says.
The audit report makes four recommendations to National Defence to get a better handle on its need for housing, develop a strategy to renovate aging units and improve the way renovations are funded.