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Atira Women's Resource Society returns $2M to province, launches review after damning B.C. Housing audit

Atira Women's Resource Society CEO Janice Abbott is pictured during an announcement regarding housing in Surrey, B.C., on April 13, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Atira Women's Resource Society CEO Janice Abbott is pictured during an announcement regarding housing in Surrey, B.C., on April 13, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The largest housing operator in B.C. has returned millions to the province and announced a third-party review of its policies and practices — particularly around potential conflicts of interest — after a damning audit of B.C. Housing this week revealed financial mismanagement at the organization's highest level.

Atira Women's Resource Society on Friday said it had returned nearly $2 million in surplus funds from the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years in the wake of the audit, which it said it took with the "utmost seriousness."

In addition to looking at broad policy, Atira says the new review will also examine how the organization "makes decisions on real estate matters," though it did not offer further specifics.

"This independent review, in addition to the B.C. Housing investigation will help ensure we can continue to do the work that serves this community," board chair Elva Kim wrote in a statement.

The province froze funding to Atira this week after the forensic audit revealed mismanagement related to a conflict of interest at the upper echelon of the Crown agency. The report said B.C. Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay directed funds to Atira, despite being married to the non-profit's CEO.

Also on Friday, the federal government announced it will be launching its own review in wake of the audit.

"We know that the recently released forensic audit of the practices of B.C. Housing has produced deeply concerning findings," read a statement from the Ministry of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion.

"We are carefully reviewing the findings of the audit to determine if there are any implications requiring action on the part of CMHC, and, as a precautionary measure, Minister Hussen has already directed CMHC to review Atira."

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.