BC Housing operator Atira defiant in face of government investigation findings

May 9 2023, 7:25 pm

The non-profit housing organization at the centre of the provincial government’s forensic investigation into BC Housing’s operations and practices has addressed the newly released report’s scathing findings.

In a press release reacting to Monday’s bombshell press conference held by Premier David Eby and BC Minister of Housing Kavi Kahlon, Atira Women’s Resource Society states its board of directors “remains confident” with its existing CEO and senior management, and “acknowledges and appreciates the quality of the work of our finance and accounting staff.”

“We are unsurprised by the key finding of the review that there was no evidence of financial improprieties within Atira’s operations,” continued their response, which goes against the review’s findings.

They also claimed to have “cooperated fully with Ernst & Young” and “provided all requested information,” but the review paints a murky picture of what Atira was able to provide to investigators.

Furthermore, Atira claims the provincial government and Ernst & Young’s review included “many factual errors.”

With this response, Atira appears to be defiant in the face of the forensic investigation’s findings, commissioned by Eby and conducted by the Office of the Comptroller General and consultant Ernst & Young.

It found that former BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay, who left the crown corporation in September 2022 after 22 years in the role, contravened conflict of interest rules, and repeatedly, on numerous occasions, directed public funds to Atira, where his wife Janice Abbott is the CEO. According to the report, in recent years, Atira has become BC Housing’s largest service provider.

shayne ramsay Janice Abbott f

Former BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay (left) and Atira Women’s Resource Society CEO Janice Abbott (right), who are married. (BC Housing/Atira)

The report states, “Atira regularly directs its funding requests to members of Excom (its executive committee), thereby bypassing proper channels that other Providers are expected to go through.”

“If someone has a personal connection to the individual who is making the decisions about where those public dollars go, they shouldn’t be at an added advantage in terms of getting awarded those contracts,” said Eby during Monday’s press conference.

“Unfortunately, because of this activity at BC Housing, we can’t have confidence in that, and that is completely unacceptable both at the political level and certainly to the public. When they send dollars to government for housing, they want to know that it goes the best and most qualified organization, which may or may not be Atira.”

The investigation also found highly problematic and inconsistent financial record keeping. Despite not knowing Atira’s financial status, the previous BC Housing leadership continued to advance funding to this non-profit. BC Housing’s senior members then told staff to “make it happen” for Atira. It should be emphasized that the review notes these practices come short of directing public funds for the benefit of any individual — that there is no evidence that funds were directed away from housing-related aspects of their operations.

In a subsequent interview Tuesday morning with CKNW’s Simi Sara, the premier says the provincial government has informed Atira “there is a need for a change in leadership,” and called the situation a “disappointing response to a crisis of government confidence in the organization, and their willingness to follow basic rules.”

“Their press release does not inspire confidence that that shift has taken place. Anyone reading the report would not have the confidence, and would believe things have to change there.”

Eby previously indicated the provincial government has already insisted that a provincial official sits on Atira’s board of directors while the next phase of the investigation is undertaken — a complete audit and operational review of the non-profit organization, and its financial transactions related to BC Housing and its agreements.

Throughout this work and until adequate reforms have been made to Atira, the provincial government will also restrict any new funding to Atira, not consider them for any new contracts, and suspend the renewal of all existing contracts. Starting this week, provincial officials will also be physically inspecting all Atira buildings.

All 20 recommendations for reforming BC Housing as outlined by Ernst & Young’s forensic investigation will be implemented by Spring 2024.

In Summer 2022, following an initial review by Ernst & Young, Eby fired most of BC Housing’s board of directors, which prompted Ramsay’s resignation.

Vincent Tong was appointed as the interim CEO of BC Housing in September 2022, and then named as the permanent head of the crown corporation last month. Before becoming BC Housing’s vice president of development and asset strategies in July 2021, Tong was a longtime senior leader at the City of Toronto-owned Toronto Community Housing. The provincial government has noted a number of reforms have already been implemented during Tong’s leadership.

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