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'Unacceptable': B.C. housing provider will have funding frozen, buildings inspected after review

A B.C. housing provider that has seen its share of government funding skyrocket in recent years won't be granted any more public dollars and both its books and buildings will be inspected by the province, officials announced Monday.

Announcing the findings from a forensic investigation of BC Housing, Premier David Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon both said they had "serious concerns" about what it revealed about how taxpayer dollars have been distributed to Atira Women's Resource Society.

"It's clear from the investigation that Atira did not follow guidelines and used inappropriate channels to obtain operating and operator funding," Kahlon said.

"The findings speak for themselves. These practices are unacceptable," he continued.

The CEO of Atira, Janice Abbott, and the former CEO of BC Housing, Shayne Ramsay, are married. The report found that the clear conflict of interest – while disclosed – was managed "ineffectively" and the independent investigators "observed numerous instances whereby the former CEO engaged in the influence of decisions that were made to benefit Atira."

In 2016, Atira received $17 million from the province. In 2022, it received $74 million – $35 million more than the second-most funded provider, the report said, adding that it had identified serious concerns about the "rigour" and "diligence" exercised at BC Housing.

Eby said that concerns about the conflict were raised directly by employees of the Crown corporation. The report, which was conducted by Ernst and Young and submitted to the province in March, offered some examples of that.

"Multiple individuals told (Ernst and Young) that Atira regularly bypassed the traditional communication channels by approaching more senior members of BC Housing directly for matters such as funding requests. In turn, the senior members of BC Housing told other BC Housing employees to 'make it happen,'" it said.

"Atira was direct-awarded contracts without transparent, competitive processes designed to ensure the proper use of public funds. We were told that 'Atira was given a level of consideration that others might not be' and that Atira has 'a familiarity with BC Housing or a level of comfort with BC Housing that does not exist with other providers.'"

Eby said part of the dramatic increase in funding to Atira can be explained by an overall increase in spending on housing – particularly during the pandemic, when the province moved in to clear large encampments. Atira, he noted, received the lion's share of government funding to house or otherwise assist people living on the streets or in tents on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The findings of the review, Eby noted, cast serious doubts on whether Atira was the best organization to provide that housing and support.

"We can't have confidence in that. And that is absolutely unacceptable, both at the political level and certainly to the public," he said.

Both Eby and Kahlon said the freezing of funds to Atira does not mean that people will be displaced from their housing, nor does it mean that repairs will go uncompleted and programs undelivered.

"That financial support that provides and enables the staffing for that housing, that keeps that housing open, that subsidizes rents will continue to flow from the provincial government," he said.

Asked about safety concerns in the buildings, particularly SROs on the Downtown Eastside, Eby said that the government's intervention won't stop at reviewing the organization's books.

"We will be around ensuring that the services that government is paying for are actually delivered in the buildings, that the standards that we expect in the buildings are met by Atira," he said.

Niether Abbott nor Atira did responded to requests for comment on Monday. Top Stories

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