Nonprofits are being squeezed out of their own neighbourhoods - what we need to do about it

Community and neighbourhood-based nonprofits are being squeezed out of their own neighbourhoods. In a 2022 survey, most nonprofit respondents report challenges in securing affordable and suitable space for current operations. This comes at a time when they also have a rising demand for their services. 

Torontonians deserve to live within walking distance of nonprofits that deliver services that bring people together and make Toronto dynamic, healthy and vibrant.

According to the City of Toronto: “The City relies on the not-for-profit sector to deliver hundreds of community services to residents, including but not limited to social housing, children’s services, employment services and arts and cultural programming. The City also looks to the not-for-profit sector to identify and respond to emerging community issues and to help ensure that local voices are heard by decision-makers.”

Toronto's nonprofits are best positioned to support the City's most vulnerable residents. But not if they cannot afford to remain in the neighbourhoods where they are needed. Affordable and accessible public spaces like community centres and schools are becoming out of reach for the community nonprofits sector to attain, limiting the availability of agencies to have programming close to where clients can access it easily. 

Communities that lack food security need local food banks and other food solutions. Residents cannot be expected to travel across the city when they’re already in a vulnerable and precarious situation. Residents are spending far too much on their rent they need and support to help them and their families. Local nonprofits can provide those supports, if they can afford to have a presence in those neighbourhoods. 

Often, organizations that do not own spaces are dependent on subsidized or discounted rent, or the provision of entirely free operational spaces. Market rate rent is mostly out of reach and non-profit funding is often restricted with only very limited resources for overhead expenses such as rent.

Access to space, its affordability, development, maintenance, and retention—is an area that affects nonprofits across multiple sectors in the city. In this context, the term “space” can refer to community/recreation centres, faith buildings, parks, community gardens and other outdoor spaces, arts/performance spaces, private spaces made available to the public, public housing spaces, school board spaces, library spaces, community-owned spaces, other City-owned property (e.g., civic centres), agencies, transitional/pop-up spaces, and vacant spaces.

Only 7% of their funding comes from City funding.The impact nonprofits have across the city vastly exceeds their size and the support they receive from the municipal government. The City of Toronto has a role and commitment to ensure they stay and thrive where they’re most needed. This is how we build a great city together.

What needs to be done now

We have three immediate recommendations for the City to implement in their Corporate Real Estate Management, Create TO, and Build Toronto programs. Implementing these will require action by City Council as well as City Staff:

  1. Establish city decision-making processes and targets that expand the opportunities for Toronto nonprofit organizations to steward land development and redevelopment projects in ways that advance public benefits (including affordable/accessible housing and community space).
  2. Ensure all municipal real estate and (re)development practices intentionally seek to expand access to secure and affordable community-use spaces for nonprofit community organizations and grassroots groups. This includes better community consultation processes and higher standard for assessing community services needs (space, programming) in areas around any development.
  3. Ensure a process for community consultations/community space needs before selling, leasing, or redeveloping publicly-owned lands - creating an impact report on the expansion or loss of affordable nonprofit community space, and associated community demands.

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