Two Atira-run properties in downtown Vancouver to be run by another operator

The Hazelwood on East Hastings Street is one of two Atira-run properties that will soon be managed by a new non-profit provider, BC Housing said Wed. Jan. 24, 2024. Global News

Two properties run by Atira Women’s Resource Society in downtown Vancouver will soon be overseen by another provider, BC Housing has announced.

Operating agreements are set to expire for both Hutchison Rooms on West Pender Street and The Hazelwood on East Hastings Street, and a request for proposals from new non-profit operators was issued Wednesday.

“BC Housing is taking action to address capacity and ensure the ongoing effective management across all of its buildings, and to ensure that the residents can continue to access critical housing and supports,” the Crown corporation said.

“The B.C. government and BC Housing will continue to work with Atira to determine if other Atira-run buildings with expiring agreements should be transitioned to a new operator.”

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Atira has come under fire in the past year, in the aftermath of a damning forensic investigation of BC Housing that revealed serious mismanagement issues.

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The audit found a conflict of interest connected to the marriage of Atira’s CEO at the time — Janice Abbott — and the former CEO of BC Housing, Shayne Ramsay. While no individual benefitted materially from that relationship, the couple held the positions at the same time.

Ultimately, Abbott resigned and a new interim CEO was brought in to “get the financial house in order.”

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Atira employee claims not much has changed at social housing organization

BC Housing cited the 2023 forensic audit in its news release on the transfer of Hutchison Rooms and The Hazelwood.

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Atira did not respond to questions from Global News in an emailed statement, but said it has notified staff and tenants at each building to support them through the transition.

“Atira remains committed to deliver on the highest standards of safety and operational excellence. Last year, Atira notified BC Housing that it would withdraw from the operating agreement at the Patricia Hotel given the operating agreement did not provide enough funding to ensure a safe building for tenants and staff,” the non-profit wrote.

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“Atira remains committed to delivering Housing to Hope to the most marginalized citizens in B.C.”

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Former Atira employee raises safety concerns

Last year’s audit by Ernst and Young found that Atira took a number of actions contrary to its operating agreements with BC Housing. Without the Crown corporation’s consent or knowledge, for example, it used $2 million in restricted, repayable funds to help fund a property purchase, and assigned an operating agreement for a women’s supportive housing program to a credit union as additional security for a mortgage.

It also bypassed BC Housing’s standard approval channels and approached senior members of the Crown corporation directly for funding and other requests multiple times. Under the limits of investigation, the auditors did not uncover evidence suggesting Atira misused grants or other public finds.

At BC Housing, it found “significant risks to public funds” as a result of questionable oversight and fund distribution practices within the organization. While Ramsay was CEO, it found Atira was awarded contracts without a competitive process, received a substantial increase in funding, and received at least $3 million in COVID-19 funds without appropriate internal BC Housing approval.

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It further determined BC Housing kept records poorly, delayed financial reviews of Atira, and may have sent a message that Atira could breach its operating agreements “without fear or repercussions from BC Housing.”

Ramsay also modified meeting minutes to alter concerns raised about an Atira property purchase, and regularly deleted text messages despite habitually conducting BC Housing business through texts, Ernst and Young found.

BC Housing is now conducting an operational review of Atira and its subsidiaries.

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Atira has taken a number of measures to improve its internal operations since last year, it has said, recently accepting all recommendations of its own governance review and bringing new members to its board of directors.

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It has introduced a code of conduct to its daily practices, introduced a new whistleblower line, reviewed its compliance with all statutes and regulations, brought a B.C. government representative into all board meetings, and more.

The operational transition of Hutchison Rooms and The Hazelwood is expected to be completed on June 1.

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