BC Housing CEO resigns, cites growing anger at policymakers, violence against the homeless

BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay has announced his retirement and says he is no longer confident he can solve the complex problems facing the agency.The Canadian Press

The man who ran BC’s housing agency for 22 years resigns, saying several recent incidents of violence against the homeless, plus the increasingly threatening environment for policymakers, have left him questioning whether he can continue to provide solutions.

In a lengthy resignation statement, Shayne Ramsay said the job of providing housing to those who need it most is under threat as “small but rowdy groups of people become increasingly angry and volatile.”

The career bureaucrat who was appointed CEO of BC Housing in 2000 under the then NDP government said he was disheartened after seeing multiple incidents of homeless people being attacked or vilified by people who didn’t want them to live nearby.

“While one community faces the almost certain prospect of poverty, ill health, violence and untimely death, others are now unwilling to provide a welcoming space, one that can save lives,” said Mr Ramsay, who lived in the city center. Eastside itself for 12 years. He also said he was angry about a recent incident in which police shot a man at a homeless camp in Vancouver.

“I am no longer confident that I can solve the complex problems we face at BC Housing.”

His resignation, which takes effect on Sept. 6, came barely more than a month after an assessment by the provincial government revealed several problems at the agency, including a lack of criteria or documentation as to why some nonprofits contract in some programs. got.

Mr Ramsay was confronted last week by a group of angry Kitsilano residents over his presentation to the city council about a social housing project in that area. They were angry with him for exposing NIMBYs and misinformation when he begged the council to approve the project. (It was eventually approved, conditionally, in an 8-3 vote.)

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In his statement, Mr. Ramsay referred to the confrontation as one of the recent disturbing events that has been decisive for him.

“The city’s security forces have since said that after reviewing the video, they believe the swarm and impending blow amounted to assault,” he wrote. “This time it was angry words and a fist, next time it could be worse.”

Mr Ramsay said in his statement that he has watched with growing alarm the violence perpetrated against the homeless. He said things changed for him in May when he saw police congregating in a Downtown Eastside park where a man was fatally stabbed, an incident that happened just minutes after Mr. Ramsay left the area walking his dog.

In the past week, he noted, people who were and were previously homeless died in a six-hour series of murders in the suburbs of Langley, BC. In another incident, a woman was deliberately set on fire just a stone’s throw from where Mr Ramsay lives.

“These incidents are not isolated, nor are they the only incidents that have kept me awake at night,” wrote Mr Ramsay.

Still, his resignation came as a surprise to some and sparked an outpouring of praise for his work from former CEO of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Evan Siddall, many from BC’s non-profit housing industry, an occasional resident of BC Housing, and current and former politicians.

“His impact cannot be overstated and I want to thank him for his tireless advocacy,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who said thousands of people in BC had been given a safe home thanks to Mr Ramsay.

Mr Ramsay’s imminent departure also raised concerns about where the agency will now go.

“Shayne became the most talented housing CEO in the country,” said Thom Armstrong, the CEO of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC for nearly the same time as Mr. Ramsay. “He has done more in terms of housing results than anyone else. I always saw him as a housing activist in bureaucratic clothes. This is a really important day – this is going to change the fact how homes are built in BC”

Mr. Armstrong said his concern now is that the county will appoint someone in charge of the agency who is only concerned about budget efficiency.

“And if the business is run by accountants, they have no chance of achieving their results.”

Others welcomed the news, saying that Mr Ramsay and his agency had robbed neighbors who expressed legitimate concerns about social housing construction in the area.

BC Housing has been subject to public scrutiny of late as the NDP government embarked on an aggressive mission to build massive amounts of new affordable housing and tackle visible homelessness in many communities.

That has led to feuds between the county and local residents in many communities, from Grand Forks, Penticton and Maple Ridge to, most recently, Vancouver’s upscale Kitsilano neighborhood.

Also, some NDP politicians and government bureaucrats were concerned about the way BC Housing managed a massive expansion in its mandate and budget, which increased from $785 million in 2017-18 to $2,247 billion for 2022-23.

A provincial investigation by the accounting firm Ernst & Young revealed a number of problems in the agency, some as inconspicuous as having inadequate information technology systems, others more serious, with contracts signed with several non-profit housing groups where there was no documentation of how and why decisions were made.

Shortly after that assessment was made public, then-Housing Secretary David Eby announced that he would be replacing the entire board of BC Housing. The replacements were largely former deputy ministers and bureaucrats with financial expertise, compared to the previous board appointed by Selina Robinson of the NDP, who had more of a background in housing advocacy.

The agency has seen many layoffs of senior executives in recent years, some frustrated by the Treasury Board’s increasing scrutiny of their jobs, which has made it difficult to buy real estate. Others were frustrated by internal tensions.

Mr. Armstrong acknowledged that Mr. Ramsay “has truly driven an equality and inclusion agenda” and that some people in the agency had been uncomfortable with that.

After the NDP formed the government in 2017, BC Housing was mandated to build 29,000 of the 114,000 “affordable” homes promised in the campaign over the next decade.

In recent years, Mr. Ramsay’s team has handed out contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

BC Housing also ran an aggressive campaign during the pandemic to buy hotels and motels to accommodate homeless people – something that sparked sharp reactions in some communities.

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