Atira CEO Janice Abbott resigns after investigation into BC Housing

May 15 2023, 6:48 pm

The longtime head of Atira Women’s Resource Society has resigned effective immediately, a week after Premier David Eby and BC Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon released the bombshell findings of the provincial government’s review into the relationship between crown corporation BC Housing and the non-profit housing provider.

Atira’s board announced today Janice Abbott’s departure from the organization, after 31 years of leadership.

“The focus for the Board now is working collaboratively with the BC Government and BC Housing, and restoring the public’s confidence in Atira’s integrity, vision, mission, purpose and values,” said Elva Kim, the board chair of Atira, in a statement.

The organization will be temporarily led by Atira’s executive directors of operations, human resources, and finance, until an interim CEO is selected.

Last Tuesday, the day after the provincial government’s press conference releasing the investigation’s findings, Atira, in their first statement in response, said their board “remains confident” with its existing CEO and senior management.

Eby expressed frustration at Atira’s initial response, suggesting that it “does not inspire confidence that that shift has taken place” and shared the provincial government had informed Atira of “a need for a change in leadership.”

Their first statement on Tuesday expressed defiance, but a second statement on Friday outlining the non-profit housing society’s next steps was more reconciliatory.

Today’s announcement on Abbott’s departure also reiterated Friday’s announcement of Atira’s next steps, including the non-profit society’s “commitment to open, transparent, and proactive communication with the Government of BC and BC Housing,” discussing the Ernst & Young report and the next phase of the review, agreeing to include a representative from the provincial government as an observer on its board, and establishing a task force to oversee the hiring of an independent entity to conduct a comprehensive review of Atira’s policies and practices.

As well, as of last Thursday, Atira returned $1.9 million in surplus funds for the 2021/2022 fiscal year to BC Housing.

Eby and Kahlon have noted the provincial government is well into the process of reforming BC Housing, including recently naming Vincent Tong as the crown corporation’s new permanent CEO. But for the next phase of the investigation, it is zeroing in on Atira’s activities and operations with a review specific to the non-profit housing society.

Until further notice, as part of this new review, the provincial government is suspending any new contracts and new funding to Atira, and the practice of renewing any expiring contracts with the organization. As well, government officials have begun the process of physically inspecting all Atira-operated buildings.

According to the forensic investigation by Ernst & Young, commissioned by the Office of the Comptroller General, Atira received $74 million in funding from the crown corporation in 2022 alone, representing an increase of more than three-fold since 2016, and 89% more funding than the second largest non-profit housing provider. In recent years, Atira has quickly turned into BC Housing’s largest service provider.

BC Housing continued to provide Atira with more funding, despite not knowing the non-profit housing society’s financial situation due to its lacklustre financial reporting, according to the investigation.

Much of the investigation centred on Abbott and her husband, Shayne Ramsay, who was the CEO of BC Housing for 22 years, until his resignation in September 2022. The findings paint a picture of numerous instances of conflict of interest and mismanagement between both individuals, who married in 2010 and signed an agreement committing themselves to following conflict of interest protocols.

Ramsay resigned from BC Housing shortly after Eby fired most of BC Housing’s previous board of directors in July 2022, after they refused to take action to change the crown corporation’s leadership following the findings of Ernst & Young’s preliminary review last year.

On Friday, Nch’ḵay̓ Development Corporation (NDC) confirmed Ramsay is no longer with the Squamish First Nation’s real estate and economic development company, leaving the organization just over half a year. Ramsay joined NDC, the company known for building the Senakw rental housing project, as the executive vice president of real estate and development the same month he left BC Housing.

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