Atira returns $2 million to BC government, launches review amidst controversies

May 12 2023, 11:52 pm

Atira Women’s Resource Society has provided a second statement in response to the provincial government’s release this week of its findings on its forensic investigation into BC Housing’s relationship with its non-profit housing society.

The organization, which is at the centre of the controversy, stated today it has established a “task force” that will oversee a separate third-party review of Atira’s policies and practices, including “how it makes decisions on real estate matters and deals with potential conflicts of interest.”

The task force’s members will comprise Atira’s board chair and the chairs of their finance and governance committees. They are also discussing the appointment of an independent review team.

Today’s statement by Atira also includes the first attributable statement to an individual representing the non-profit housing society, ever since Premier David Eby and BC Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon released the investigation’s damning findings in a press conference on Monday.

“Atira does critical work each day to protect women and children affected by violence by offering supportive housing and delivering education and advocacy aimed at ending all forms of gendered violence. We are dedicated to maintaining that support,” said Atira board chair Elva Kim in a statement today.

“This independent review, in addition to the BC Housing investigation, will help ensure we can continue to do the work that serves this community.”

BC’s largest non-profit housing operator adds that they take the Ernst & Young report, commissioned by the provincial government, “with the utmost seriousness and welcomes the opportunity to discuss the government’s related recommendations, including potentially having a representative from the provincial government on Atira’s board as an observer.”  At the same time, Atira alleges there were highly limited opportunities to interact with the Ernst & Young’s investigators.

As well, in response to the report, Atira indicated today it has returned $1.9 million in surplus funds to the provincial government for the fiscal years of 2020 and 2021. This return of the funds occurred Thursday.

Today’s statements by Atira were the second comments they made in reaction to Monday’s government release of the investigation’s findings.

On Tuesday, the day after the press conference, Atira initially expressed defiance in response to the investigation’s findings, while noting that their board “remains confident” with its existing CEO and senior management.

In addition to identifying mismanagement, much of the government’s investigation focused on highlighting numerous instances of conflict of interest between longtime BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay and Atira CEO Janice Abbott, who have been married couple for well over a decade. In that time, with extensive public funding and allegations of special treatment from BC Housing, Atira has grown into becoming the crown corporation’s largest service provider — far larger than any other non-profit housing organization.

Ramsay left BC Housing in September 2022, after the Premier fired much of BC Housing’s old board in July 2022 over their refusal to act on Ernst & Young’s preliminary findings, including his request to replace their CEO.

Earlier today, in an email to Daily Hive Urbanized, Nch’ḵay̓ Development Corporation (NDC) confirmed Ramsay has left their organization. He joined NDC in September 2022 as their executive vice president of real estate and development. NDC is a private company wholly owned by the Squamish First Nation to oversee their real estate and economic investments, including the execution of the Senakw rental housing complex.

Ramsay and Abbott have yet to make public comments on the investigation’s findings on their activities.

Eby and Kahlon note major reforms to BC Housing are already well underway, including the recent appointment of Vincent Tong as the crown corporation’s new permanent CEO.

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