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BC Housing CEO resigns as turmoil roils the social housing provider

BC Housing’s budget grew from $782 million in 2017-2018, the first year of the NDP government, to $1.9 billion in 2020-2021 as social housing conditions worsened
BC Housing-funded Atira paid $6 million over assessed value this year for the aging Columbia SRO hotel on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. | Chung Chow

Following the release of a damning report, Shayne Ramsay, who spent 26 years with BC Housing, and was CEO since May 2000, said he will resign and wants to spend more time with family.

His last day will be September 6, 2022.

In a 10-part Tweet thread August 2, Ramsay, 61, said “something shifted” on May 7, after a neighbour was bowled over by two men who had allegedly committed murder at the CRAB Park homeless camp. He said the last straw was the July 30 Vancouver Police shooting of a man alleged to have seriously injured a police officer on the Downtown Eastside. 

“I think the shooting on Hastings Street, surrounded by the encampment and during another heat wave, finally did it for me,” Ramsay wrote. “I no longer have confidence I can solve the complex problems facing us at BC Housing.”

Ramsay also referred to the July 25 rampage shooting in Langley, which killed a homeless man and a man in social housing, and the July 26 public hearing on the controversial Arbutus social housing tower. He claimed he was swarmed and threatened by opponents after he spoke with reporters. A majority of Vancouver city council approved the project two days later.

It took housing ministry officials four hours to respond to a query for comment on Ramsay’s announcement, but they did not indicate in the four-paragraph statement whether there had been a board of directors meeting.

“The BC Housing board will immediately begin work to identify a new CEO to lead the organization into the future,” said the statement, attributed to Murray Rankin, the Acting Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing.

“Shayne Ramsay has dedicated many years to the challenging work of CEO at BC Housing. In his retirement announcement today, he mentioned his desire to spend time with family,” said the statement. 

The other two paragraphs were about the NDP’s housing strategy since taking power in 2017 and aspirations to expand affordable housing.

While Ramsay referred to a litany of external turmoil for his retirement decision, there was no shortage of problems inside BC Housing under his watch. 

On July 8 at 6:35 p.m., then-Attorney General and Housing Minister David Eby announced the firing of a majority of the board and the immediate appointment of two current and two former deputy ministers and a former acting auditor general to implement the recommendations of a May 10 report by Ernst and Young. Eby has since resigned in a bid to become NDP leader and succeed John Horgan as premier. 

The Ernst and Young report, called Financial Systems and Operational Review of BC Housing,

was dated May 10, but kept secret until June 30. 

The report said BC Housing suffers a siloed approach to delivery, has made limited investments in IT infrastructure and resources, and its project administration is largely undocumented and does not include a risk-based approach.

The report also described a perfect storm of increased homelessness and encampments along with demands to house mentally ill and addicted clients amid a competitive job market.

BC Housing’s budget grew from $782 million in 2017-2018, the first year of the NDP government, to $1.9 billion in 2020-2021. The NDP committed to $7 billion more over 10 years and expanded borrowing power from $165 million to $2.8 billion.

Despite the funding windfall, BC Housing became one of the first major Crown corporations to adopt the controversial, non-refundable $10-per-application freedom of information fee enacted last fall by the NDP majority.

Meanwhile, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth ordered B.C. Coroners Service on July 21 to hold an inquest into the deaths of two people in the April 11 fire at the Winters Hotel in Gastown. 

The demolished property was funded by BC Housing and managed by Atira Women Resources Society, an organization run by Ramsay’s wife Janice Abbott. 

In the most recent transaction involving Atira and funding by BC Housing, Atira paid $6 million above BC Assessment value this year for the 79-room single-room-occupancy Columbia hotel. The $16 million price tag equated to more than $202,000 per room for the old building at 303 Columbia in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside.

For more than a decade, Ramsay has been dogged by questions about his marriage to Abbott. They disclosed their relationship to the BC Housing board in 2010 and managed the conflict of interest according to a June 2010 protocol that was updated last November. 

Under that protocol, Ramsay agreed not to communicate with any employee or board member about Atira and to recuse himself from and avoid any discussions or decisions about anything directly related to Atira. He also agreed not to access any BC Housing information directly related to Atira, except that which is of general application or already in the public domain.