A Second Chance Yields Social Savings

Barb is a full-time building services worker at the Flint Hotel, an Atira property

Study shows that hiring people with barriers to employment generates substantive societal benefits

Hiring people with barriers to employment is a smart financial play, according to a new Ernst & Young analysis of the hiring practices of Atira Property Management Inc., which manages thousands of housing units across the Lower Mainland and employs individuals with addictions and mental health issues as front desk clerks and janitors in its Downtown Eastside single room occupancy hotels.
The analysis found that, in the fiscal year ending March 2013, every dollar spent to employ people from the target group brought a social return on investment of $3.32. The hidden benefits stemmed from increased local spending as well as savings to healthcare, food and shelter programs.
“People have buckets of stereotypes about people that live in the Downtown Eastside. And Atira’s experience has been quite the opposite. Given the opportunity, most people want to contribute somehow. And it’s stereotypes about them that prevent that from happening,” said Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira, in a phone interview. “There are lots of ugly things that happen in the Downtown Eastside, don’t get me wrong. But there’s also a lot of really awesome people who just want an opportunity.”
Abbott, who is married to BC Housing CEO Shane Ramsay, wants local and regional governments to embrace similar social impact hiring practices as pathways to corporate and societal savings.
Wes Regan, executive director of the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association, has been spreading the word to local developers. He thinks hiring area residents for various entry-level construction-related roles could soften the blows of gentrification in the changing neighbourhood.
“This has been an ongoing strategy in the Downtown Eastside for almost 10 years now. Any sort of economic revitalization strategy in the area has to focus on creating jobs for residents with barriers,” Regan told BC Business by phone from a conference of downtown associations in New York City. “It’s become pretty evident the social impact of inclusive hiring practices benefits everyone. It reduces strain on taxpayers for services and it builds capacity in the community.”