News: First and tallest are only part of the picture for Atira

In 2013, Atira Women’s Resource Society built the first multi-dwelling housing project in Canada using recycled shipping containers.

BC Gov News – Monday, January 30, 2017

In 2013, Atira Women’s Resource Society built the first multi-dwelling housing project in Canada using recycled shipping containers.

Now the society is set to build the tallest container-housing complex in North America. As with all of the work it does, Atira’s latest housing is being built to serve women and children in the Vancouver area.

Being first or tallest has helped to elevate its profile, with calls coming in from all over the world, but that’s not what matters most to Atira. “We really just want to house women,” said Janice Abbott, Atira’s CEO.

Atira’s strong social values have made them leaders in the province in the area of social innovation. Organizations such as Atira’s will be coming together on Feb. 8, 2017, at the BC Summit on Social Innovation and BC Social Innovation Youth Awards. The summit will help raise awareness of innovation across all sectors in British Columbia.

In addition to providing housing for women and children in the Downtown Eastside and across the Lower Mainland, Atira Women’s Resource Society and one of its for-profit subsidiaries, Atira Property Management Inc, also hire people with lived experience, which is often favoured over hiring candidates with formal credentials.

“Most of the people we work with want to work,” Abbot said. “They want to get up in the morning and have a purpose; something to keep them busy and to give back.”

Many of Atira’s staff also face significant barriers to employment, such as histories of homelessness, struggles with substance use and mental wellness, and criminal records. The additional costs and risks in hiring staff with such barriers are something that many employers aren’t willing to take on.

Atira has found, however, that there is a substantial social return on investment (SROI). For every dollar that they spent in employing people with barriers, the SROI was $3.69, which comes from taxes paid on employment, increased local spending, reduced health-care costs, reduced interactions with the criminal justice system and other supports, and more.

Atira Property Management Inc. has partnered with the Open Door Group, a WorkBC Employment Services Centre, which means employees who come to them are a well-trained and better-prepared work force. That work force is also representative of the people who access Atira’s services: almost half of whom are First Nations or of First Nations ancestry and one-third are immigrants and people of colour.

“Ninety per cent of what we do is people work. It creates safety for folks accessing our services when they see themselves reflected in the staff, and we find our staff have more empathy. They have been there,” Abbott said.

“The BC Summit on Social Innovation is highlighting new solutions to issues we face in British Columbia,” said Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation. “Atira is working tirelessly to provide housing and jobs to women in need, which complements the work we are doing in the province. Together, we are creating a better future for all British Columbians.”

Quick Facts:

  • Atira is made up of five entities, led by Atira Women’s Resource Society, which has two wholly owned for-profit subsidiaries, Atira Property Management Inc. and The Painter Sisters Painting Co. and two affiliated non profits, Atira Development Society and Atira Women’s Arts Society.
  • Atira Women’s Resource Society’s new Container Housing Project will see 21 self-contained units built on a single-family lot, with the higher density positively affecting affordability.
  • Atira Property Management Inc. currently employees more than 280 people from the Downtown Eastside, who work in its Single Room Occupancy (SRO) portfolio.
  • Atira Women’s Resource Society’s programs are accessible to anyone who identifies and lives full time as a woman.
  • A government-funded study on B.C.’s social venture sector found the sector has grown by 36% over the last five years, generates an estimated $533 million annually and employs more than 12,700 people.
  • As an active member of the BC Partners for Social Impact, government works with social innovation leaders in the public, private and non-profit sectors to promote and support social innovation and enterprise throughout the province.

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Want to Learn More? 

View the proposed housing complex:

Learn more about the work Atira is doing here

Read Atira’s full Social Return on Investment report here

Learn about the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation here

Explore B.C.’s online social-innovation tool here