The head of BC Housing announced his retirement Tuesday, saying he no longer has confidence he can solve the complex problems facing the Crown agency.
In a letter posted on BC Housing’s website, CEO Shayne Ramsay said he has spent sleepless nights thinking about the recent murders of homeless and formerly homeless people in Langley, a vulnerable woman who was lit on fire in Vancouver and his own recent encounter with angry residents.
Ramsay's statement said he was threatened with violence last week after speaking in favour of a housing initiative in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood.
"I had to be escorted to a private elevator for my safety," said Ramsay, who was not available for comment Tuesday. "Security at the city have since advised that after reviewing the video footage, they believe the swarming and threatened punch amounted to assault. This time it was angry words and a fist, next time it could be worse."
Ramsay said while one community faces almost certain prospects of poverty, poor health, violence and premature death, other communities are unwilling to provide a welcome space that could save lives.
"These incidents are not isolated, nor are they the only incidents that have caused me to lay awake at night," he said. "From the Interior to the west side, doubtless small but vocal groups of people are increasingly angry and increasingly volatile."
Ramsay said a police shooting in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside over the weekend near a homeless encampment sealed his decision.
"I think the shooting on Hastings Street, surrounded by the encampment and during another heat wave, finally did it for me," said Ramsay's retirement letter. "I no longer have confidence I can solve the complex problems facing us at BC Housing."
A 52-year-old man was shot and wounded and a Vancouver police officer suffered injuries after a man allegedly assaulted an officer with a weapon.
Ramsay, who turned 61 last month, said his last day will be Sept. 6.
BC Housing CEO to retire amid murders, #violence against #homeless, complex problems. #BCPoli #BCHousing
Prof. Andy Yan, a Simon Fraser University urban studies director, said Ramsay has committed himself for years to improving housing for everybody in B.C.
"He has decided he has done what he could do," said Yan in an interview. "But the mission is still there."
Ramsay chose to step aside but others in B.C.'s development, social and governing communities must come forward to build trust and bridges as opposed to walls during this era where everybody, from all communities and neighbourhoods, is concerned about where they live or can live, he said.
"You need a level of grace, wisdom and resolve," said Yan. "It's a hard job."
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Ramsay's more than two decades of dedication and housing advocacy deserve recognition.
"BC Housing’s vastly increased mandate combined with unprecedented housing demand brought on by COVID-19, the toxic drug crisis, and decades of underinvestment meant Shayne Ramsay’s work was more challenging than ever before," said Kennedy in a statement.
Through it all, he maintained his focus on helping those in most need, the statement said.
Former housing minister David Eby announced a restructuring of the Crown corporation's board of directors last month after the release of an independent, government-commissioned review of BC Housing.
The Ernst and Young review cited inadequate oversight for decisions and spending, and unclear roles.
"The review was initiated by the B.C. government in 2021 to ensure that BC Housing can deliver its expanded budget and mandate in consideration of government’s historic $7-billion investment in affordable housing over ten years and the rapid growth of the Crown corporation," Eby said in a statement.
Eby, who is seeking the NDP leadership following the retirement announcement by Premier John Horgan, has made housing one of his top priorities as a minister and he has pledged to make it one of his top leadership campaign issues.
He has said the government is poised to introduce legislation this fall to limit the final permit approval powers municipal government's have over housing development proposals in their communities.
Current Housing Minister Murray Rankin said Ramsay dedicated many years to challenging work, but his retirement will not stop the government's plan to provide thousands of homes for people.
"There are many more who need that same help and we are determined to continue to expand our work to provide the safe, affordable housing and supports people and communities need across B.C.," Rankin said in a statement.
He said the BC Housing board will begin work to identify a new CEO to lead the organization into the future.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2022.