02/02/2016 10:22 EST | Updated 02/02/2016 11:59 EST

Auditor General Fall Report Says Up To 1,500 Military Houses Empty

A military unit from Canada marches during a military parade marking Polish Armed Forces Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Poland is holding its biggest military parade in years with tanks and soldiers moving through central Warsaw and military aircraft flying overhead. The parade comes on the August 15 holiday that honors a stunning Polish victory against Russian Bolsheviks in 1920. A group of Canadian soldiers are taking part in military exercises in Poland.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

OTTAWA — The management of military housing at the Department of National Defence is in disarray, with as many as 1,500 units sitting vacant and not enough consideration given to allowing soldiers to rent in the local market away from their bases, Canada's auditor general says.

Michael Ferguson's latest report, tabled Tuesday in Parliament, found the department has no idea how many private military quarters it needs, and in some instances is charging below-market rents for its 11,858 apartments, duplexes or row houses.

Roughly 15 per cent of full-time military members live on military bases in housing managed by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency.

Ferguson said government policy requires that Crown-owned housing be provided only when there's a direct operational requirement, or when suitable housing is not available in the private housing market.

michael ferguson Canada's auditor general Michael Ferguson's fall report was critical of the upkeep of private military quarters. (Photo: CP)

But the auditor says National Defence does not routinely look at what is available outside its walls, and the private market could in some cases — notably Halifax and Valcartier, Que. — meet the needs of members.

Also, myriad regulations limit what can be charged, and in some cases rent for base accommodation is cheaper, particularly in Bagotville, Que., Edmonton and Winnipeg — a discrepancy Ferguson calls unfair to soldiers who choose to live off-base.

"In our opinion, when rental rates are below private market rates, it is likely that military housing provides occupants with financial benefits. Such benefits could thus create inequities between military housing and private housing occupants," said the audit.

National Defence agrees with the findings and is drawing up a revised accommodation policy that's due in the fall of 2017.

"We found that the agency did not have updated information about the condition of housing units to inform its decisions."

The audit was also critical of the upkeep of private military quarters — known as PMQs. It said National Defence has a goal of modernizing the units, but did not have an adequate and approved long-term plan.

The department has no clear idea of the work that needs to be done, the time required and the resources needed to achieve the goal.

"We found that the agency did not have updated information about the condition of housing units to inform its decisions," Ferguson wrote.

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