The British Columbia government is restricting new funding to a major non-profit housing provider and reviewing its finances after an independent report found mismanagement by a former top executive at the province’s housing corporation.
The forensic investigation by Ernst and Young says it uncovered “significant risks to public funds” stemming from mismanagement and a lack of oversight at BC Housing, the Crown corporation that develops and manages subsidized housing.
In particular, the probe revealed mismanagement related to a conflict of interest between the former CEO, Shayne Ramsay, and his spouse, Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society, BC Housing’s largest housing operator.
Eby says the forensic audit found altered meeting minutes from BC Housing, "a pattern of missing important financial documentation," millions missing, and text messages deleted from the former BC Housing CEO and CFO, which he called troubling.
— Rob Shaw (@RobShaw_BC) May 8, 2023
The review found Ramsay repeatedly influenced decisions that benefited Atira, and a lack of oversight by the agency’s board “resulted in a culture whereby it was deemed acceptable to tolerate non-compliance with (conflict of interest) policies.”
The probe found Atira bypassed traditional communication channels and went straight to senior members of the Crown corporation for funding requests.
Atira was also awarded contracts directly, “without transparent, competitive processes designed to ensure the proper use of public funds,” the report says.
While the investigation uncovered financial mismanagement, it did not find evidence that public money had been stolen, Premier David Eby told a news conference shortly after the report was tabled in the legislature on Monday.
Eby said efforts to conceal certain activities from the government and the public, including allegations that BC Housing executives had deleted text messages and altered meeting minutes, are among the probe’s most troubling findings.
The government received the report in March, but just released it Monday, saying it has already implemented several of the 20 recommendations aimed at improving financial oversight, preventing conflicts of interest and ensuring accountability.
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon told the news conference that BC Housing’s new leadership has committed to implementing all 20 recommendations by next spring.
In addition to restricting new funding to Atira, the province will physically inspect Atira-operated buildings and suspend the renewal of agreements with Atira until a review of the operator’s financial transactions related to BC Housing is complete.
The premier said he knows the findings will likely cause anxiety among people in buildings run by Atira, but he assured those residents their housing is secure.
“For people who are currently living in government-funded housing that’s managed by Atira … (the) financial support that provides and enables the staffing for that housing, that keeps that housing open, that subsidizes rent, will continue to flow.”
However, Eby said there’s been a freeze on funding for new buildings to be managed by the organization, as well as any contracts for new programming.
The report follows an earlier Ernst and Young probe released last June, a week before the province announced it had fired several BC Housing board members.
Eby, who was the minister responsible for housing at the time, said the government commissioned the review to ensure the corporation could deliver on its mandate, considering B.C.’s plan to spend $7 billion on affordable housing over 10 years.
Ramsay announced his retirement a few weeks later, saying he no longer had confidence he could solve the complex problems the corporation faced.
During the course of the first investigation, Ernst and Young had brought forward information suggesting Ramsay had been violating conflict-of-interest rules, prompting Eby to request the full forensic investigation, the premier said Monday.
Asked whether he thought Abbott should be fired or resign as CEO of Atira, Eby said the government expects the housing provider to take steps to ensure public confidence in its operations, and one of those steps could be leadership change.
“That is something that BC Housing has asked for,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.