It's About More Than Just Walls: CASSA's Path to Community

This story highlight’s one nonprofit's struggle to get good, affordable, and accessible space for themselves and their members in Toronto. 

The Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) has been around for the last three decades and has moved around within the City of Toronto from tiny closet-sized offices to shared offices for the majority of those three decades. We had been in conversation with our member agencies since 2017 about possibly securing "below market rent" space from the City of Toronto. This meant we would pay for the utilities for the space and not the rent. Space opened up at 705 Progress Avenue in Scarborough for 6000 square feet of City owned space. We applied and the competition was fierce with other community based agencies so we did not get the space. 

We went through City Council to express the need for CASSA and other community organizations to get space through the City. We were able to get the motion successfully passed which moved CASSA 2nd in line to get access to space at 705 Progress when private tenants leave. 

In 2023, we were offered 3 units in as is condition totalling 5291 square feet at 705 Progress.

The total square footage of space is enough for us and our members, the majority of the space is in need of essential renovations. One is a warehouse unit not suited for service delivery and needs to be retrofitted to be a community hall. Another unit was left mid-renovation by the past tenants so there are just bare drywall, missing doors, missing ceiling tiles, incomplete electrical work, lack of light fixtures, and missing floor tiles. None of the units have accessible doors or washrooms. The City has made it clear that they will not be paying for any renovations or retrofits. So as tenants we have been trying to find different sources of funding through fundraising and grants. We have not been successful yet, however, we are doing our best to maximize our use of the space while we look for renovation funds.

CASSA serves over 120 member agencies across Ontario. Many have indicated the need for space. Through the City of Toronto's Community Space Tenancy police, we are restricted to having two subtenants. After eight months, we have finally signed on the sublease organizations. However, many others are still in need and we are figuring out a space-use policy which can allow our members to book our space for meetings and small events. Many of these organizations cannot pay market rent or rental fees for meeting spaces so we are hoping to meet this requirement for them by opening up our space.

There have been many challenges along the way - too many to name here - in working with the City's Community Space Tenancy. There is so much potential for the space we have. We launched the space as the "Centre of Excellence for South Asians" in November 2023. If we are able to secure the renovation funds, we can better meet the needs of our members and their clients.