Two former BC Housing board members are defending Crown Corporation against allegations of mismanagement, saying the housing agency is being used as a political soccer ball and that could stall much-needed housing projects.
“There are no fires at BC Housing,” former board chair C saidAssie Doyle, speaking publicly for the first time since Prime Minister David Eby abruptly sacked the entire BC Housing board of directors. “I think it’s all about politics. The idea that we were somehow mismanaging…the supervision was very thorough.”
Eby, then the minister responsible for housing, sacked the board in July. That followed an Ernst & Young audit that found a lack of transparency about how BC Housing awards grants and insufficient records on multi-million dollar property purchases. That raised concerns about favoritism, allegations of conflicts of interest and questions about why some agencies got money from the government and others didn’t.
Doyle said the problems identified in the audit are “a great reflection of a fast-growing organization” trying to carry out the BC NDP’s ambitious social housing plan.
That was corroborated by another former board member, Perry Staniscia, who insists the board was working with BC Housing executives and ministry officials to address concerns raised by the Ernst & Young audit when Eby abruptly fired them.
Staniscia worries that with the new board of directors, which includes former high-level bureaucrats with legal and accounting backgrounds, “the pendulum will swing slightly the other way to become risk averse and it will all stop.”
Last week, Eby revealed that a forensic audit of BC Housing is underway. He ordered the audit in July, just before stepping down to run for BC NDP leadership, with terms of reference calling for a “risk-based analysis of cash outflows to select housing providers” with a view to “considering potential risks of fraud”. ”
BC Housing has an annual budget of $2 billion (it was $782 million in 2017 under the previous Liberal government) and is responsible for financing and overseeing hundreds of affordable housing projects. It provides loans to the private sector to build homes and funding to nonprofit organizations to operate the buildings, some of which include services such as supervised consumption sites and addiction and mental health support.
The housing agency spent $221 million to buy nine vacant motels in 2020 and 2021 to provide shelter for people living in camps in Vancouver and Victoria.
Both Doyle and Staniscia said BC Housing had to work fast during the pandemic to provide people with emergency housing.
In some cases, when BC Housing was desperately looking for a nonprofit agency to operate a recently purchased motel, there wasn’t enough time to do a full RFP, Doyle said, “because we had very strict Marching Orders from Cabinet of the day. ”
As a result, BC Housing often turns to trusted partners to run housing projects, he said. To some, that might seem like favoritism, but Doyle said it’s more a case of nonprofits being willing to take on the extra work.
BC liberals have blamed Eby for the “chaos” at BC Housing. He was attorney general and minister responsible for housing since 2018.
On Tuesday, Opposition labor critic Todd Stone pointed to a critical report by accounting firm BDO Canada on the Atira Women’s Resource Society as evidence of “a shocking misuse of taxpayer dollars.” Atira is a Vancouver-based nonprofit that has received millions in government cash over the years to fund dozens of non-market housing and social service programs.
The final report, completed in 2019, found “financial resource challenges at Atira and financial review supervision gaps at BCH (BC Housing).”
Janice Abbott, who has run Atira since 1992, told Postmedia News that the former BC Housing vice president of operations overseeing the BDO report was intent on finding wrongdoing and insisted he was receiving various salaries from Atira despite the fact that the audit found that this was not the case.
Abbott is married to former BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay, who had set up a conflict of interest screen to avoid involvement in any Atira-related funding decisions. Ramsay resigned in August, saying he can no longer fix the myriad problems facing the agency and that he is concerned for his own safety.
Abbott admits there were problems with Atira’s financial reporting that the nonprofit is trying to resolve.
“There is no doubt that Atira had… work to do with regard to its accounting and management processes,” he said. “We are also expected to develop programs, build housing, and solve intractable systemic problems, without the tools and resources, or support that we need.”
Abbott said nonprofit organizations and BC Housing must be held accountable for taxpayer dollars. But he worries that political smears will delay much-needed affordable housing developments.
Jill Atkey, executive director of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, said there are concerns in the nonprofit housing sector that the speed and innovation for which BC Housing has traditionally been known could be compromised in favor of “a greater focus on politics”. and procedure, which I think would be a bit embarrassing.”
“I don’t want to give the impression that we’ve already seen that chilling effect, but there’s certainly hope that it doesn’t come to that,” he said.
Eby has committed to quickly funding ready-to-go affordable housing projects, Atkey noted, and “any further slowdown will further frustrate the system.”
Atkey also expressed concern about the personal attacks he heard in the legislature against Abbott and others at BC Housing, which create a sense of fear among those who work in BC’s nonprofit and supportive housing sector.
“When things seem really personalized, instead of focusing on the problems, I think everyone feels like they could be the next target,” Atkey said. “And it’s just not a constructive way to have a conversation about a housing crisis that affects more and more British Columbians every year.”
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