#SpatialJusticeTO Fact Sheet

Toronto is home to Canada’s largest and most diverse concentration of nonprofits, grassroots groups and collectives. Together, they play a critical role in ensuring the physical, mental, and financial well being of Torontonians. From homelessness and housing to arts and culture to education and employment, they offer essential programs and community-building services to all. 

A nonprofit is a club, society, collective or association that is organized and operated for social welfare, civic improvement, pleasure or recreation, or any other purpose, except profit. City of Toronto: For Public Benefit Report, 2018

What we know

Nonprofit Sector Appreciation Week 2023

Toronto’s Nonprofit Sector:

Contributes to our economy. The City of Toronto is home to more than 14,000 nonprofits. These organizations engage 105,000 full-time workers and 100,000 part-time workers, while volunteers contribute over 1.7 billion hours each year. Though City of Toronto investments account for only 7% of their total revenue, nonprofits generate more than 8% of the city’s GDP.

Enriches our lives. Nonprofits are at the forefront of the fight to ensure that Torontonians of all ages and backgrounds are safe, healthy, housed, and employed. Beyond the essentials, they enhance our quality of life by providing education, funding the arts, organizing sports leagues and recreational programs, protecting the environment, and so much more.

Has shown resiliency. Almost two-thirds of nonprofits in Toronto reported increased demand for their services during the pandemic, while 80% reported increased costs. As of late 2022, 75% of nonprofits have struggled to recruit or retain staff because of burnout, while 40% have had trouble bringing back volunteers. Despite these challenges, sector staff and volunteers continue to deliver life-saving programs.

2023 Toronto Foundation Vital Signs Report

“Between 2018 and 2022, Toronto residents have become most confident in neighbourhood centres (with 59% expressing high confidence). Confidence remained unchanged between 2018 and 2022, but confidence in the police declined substantially, causing neighbourhood centres to take the top spot.

Neighbourhood centres are among the most trusted institutions across all demographics and neighbourhoods, a testament to their accessibility and inclusivity.

Critically, neighbourhood centres are the institution in which Black residents have the highest confidence, with a striking 63% expressing high confidence. The next highest institution — Toronto’s charities or nonprofits — trails by a substantial 10 percentage points.

However, a gap emerges when we consider the ease of access to these centres. Confidence in neighbourhood centres drops significantly, to only 39% among people who do not live within walking distance of a community centre or recreational facility, compared to 64% of those who do. This underscores how important gaps in access to community centres across the city are and the potential benefits of bridging these gaps.

In our Arts, Culture and Recreation section, we further discuss how frequent visits to a community centre among a broader set of community activities are associated with much higher levels of life satisfaction, civic engagement, social connections and social trust.”

The experience of COVID showed the power of neighbourhood-based organizations and groups to deeply listen to needs and act on what they heard. Meaningful change starts at the hyper-local level because staff know their communities, they speak their language, they have deep roots and relationships. It is so important that funders and policymakers understand that these groups don’t just identify problems in community, they have the solutions too.” — Jin Huh, Executive Director, Social Planning Toronto

Social Planning Toronto’s Resident Budget Forum

"There was broad support from residents to increase funding for community centres and community spaces, parks, and recreational programming.

One resident shared that Toronto ranks high as one of the loneliest cities in Canada, citing that participation in group activities is down by 30% compared to before the pandemic. He saw community centres as a way of increasing civic engagement and breaking isolation. 

Another resident noted that funding for community centres is essential because they function as key support systems for newcomers, youth, children, and seniors, offering a place where they can access specialized programs.

Additionally, a resident highlighted that there is a need to fund community centres that have a focus on arts and culture, as well as a need to fund more indoor tennis spaces. People also identified the importance of community centres and community hubs as a violence-prevention measure for youth.”

City of Toronto Relationship with Not-For-Profits

Surveys and income tax data suggest that Toronto’s core community-based not-for-profit sector:

  • Relies on City of Toronto government investments for only 7% of total revenue and attracts 93% of revenue from other sources
  • Contributes at least $14 billion in annual revenue, which is double the reported impact of Toronto’s tourism industries and represents over 8% of Toronto’s GDP
  • Leverages 1.7 million volunteer hours
  • Employs over 105,000 full-time workers and 100,000 part-time jobs
  • Includes 14,000 organizations
  • Provides job opportunities for vulnerable individuals entering the workforce, through social enterprises and other workforce initiatives to reduce poverty and promote economic inclusion

Only 100 leases for nonprofits are held by the City through the Community Space Tenancies program.

Toronto Nonprofit Network: Priorities Survey (2020)

Key space challenges for nonprofit organizations and the sector:

  • Lack of free and affordable spaces for community use and programming 
  • Shifts and decreases in funding have impacted organizational budgets and the ability for nonprofits to book, rent, own, and/or access spaces; as a result, community access to these spaces also becomes limited
  • Limited organizational capacity (time, staff, budget) to work on joint solutions to this issue
  • Rules and regulations: zoning, permits, insurance, changes to rental/lease policies, liability concerns 
  • Accessibility of location (e.g., finding space downtown vs. suburbs) 
  • Displacement due to development pressures (e.g., facilities closing or changes to space, such as TDSB schools and faith buildings)
  • Limited usability of space (not all spaces fit groups’ needs, e.g., physical accessibility, safety)
  • Lack of education on how to access resources on financing, government subsidies, and loans 
  • Nonprofits struggling for space can unintentionally find themselves competing with grassroots groups for space 
  • Access to capital, lack of funding, and financial resources for nonprofits
  • High cost of real estate (land, buildings, spaces)
  • Negotiating and building relationships with powerful developers, finding socially conscious developer partners
  • Limited organizational capacity to focus on this issue
  • Knowledge gaps / need for sharing best practices, lack of understanding around the benefits and risks of nonprofit-owned social purpose real estate
  • Limited political leadership in this area
  • Conflicting funder rules on mortgage payments
  • Property taxes and land transfer taxes on nonprofits

Greater Toronto 2022 Non-Profit Community Space Survey Results

  • 40% of organizations report that they’ve had trouble bringing volunteers back after the pandemic
  • 80% of organizations reported increased costs between April 2021 and March 2022
  • 31% of organizations forecast not being able to sustain their operations for over a year
  • 73% of nonprofits have experienced increased demand for their services
  • 75% report burnout and stress as the factor most affecting their ability to recruit/retain staff

Funding & affordability

Nearly 60% of the organizations responding indicated a lack of funding and affordable space as a primary challenge. 71.7% of organizations (226/315) reported that their ability to operate is dependent on access to at least one form of subsidy, discount or access to free space. Almost two-thirds of the organizations (61.0%) reported experiencing rent increases in the last 2 years.

Space needs

59.7% indicated that their current space is not currently meeting the needs of their organization. This rate (50-60%) is consistent across most of the ownership models reflected in this sample for organizations that own their spaces, those owning and renting spaces as well as organizations renting space. 

Ownership & leases

Respondents represented a variety of access models, with 11.4% of organizations owning property (37/322), 15.5% (50/322) not owning or renting, 17.1% (55/322) renting and owning, and 55.9% (180/322) renting only. Of note is that the majority (19/37 or 51.0%) of the organizations that own their properties indicated ownership of longer than 25 years and 62.1% (23/37) of those that own have operating budgets over $1 million.

Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

67.9% (199/293) of the organizations surveyed indicated an increase in demand for services (with 47.8% or 140/293 of organizations reporting that demand has “significantly” increased). Additional potential impacts of the pandemic on access to space requiring further research include the impact on revenue generation and fundraising capacity for space costs.

Non-profit-led solutions

44.1% of organizations (114/258) indicated they were willing or are already engaging in a space-sharing arrangement with another nonprofit organization, and 69.5% of organizations (185/266) indicated they were "somewhat likely" (57/266 or 21.4%), "likely" (52/266 or 19.5%) or "very likely" (76/266 or 28.5%) to consider space-sharing in the future. 59.7% (55/92) of respondents who reported owning property (considering both the “own” and “own & rent” categories of respondents) indicated they have considered leveraging it as an asset to further their operations.

2023 ONN Realities for Ontario’s Nonprofit Sector Survey Datasheet 

  • 64% of Toronto nonprofits lease, placing them in temporary, and sometimes precarious, space arrangements.
  • 23% of Toronto nonprofits own their space. 
  • 31% of Toronto nonprofits have had some change to their space arrangements 
  • 22% of organizations identified as a B3 organization in Toronto (Black-led, Black-serving, Black-focused) do not have space but need it. 77% B3 organizations lease (44%) or have other space arrangements (33%)

Our city faces a number of challenges which have been identified by the Just Recovery Action Committee:

  • Food security
  • Housing and homelessness
  • Emergency shelter
  • Community safety and community-based alternatives to policing
  • Harm reduction and the opioid epidemic
  • Community sector funding
  • Employment and income
  • Mental health
  • Cost of living
  • Climate change
  • Mistrust and Polarization
  • Anti-Black racism
  • Access to space and spatial justice
  • Vaccine engagement
  • Grassroots support

Access to secure and affordable space is just one of many priority areas needed for a just and equitable recovery in Toronto. We work together with the organizations addressing these challenges. Many of them are located in the communities and neighbourhoods of highest need. It is these organizations that need assurances that they will be able to continue to operate in these areas. Their services are important, transformative, local, and must remain accessible to the communities who need them the most.

Social Planning Council’s Food Security & Poverty Reduction campaign

Community organizations calling on City Council to take action on the following areas:

  1. Space
  2. Funding
  3. Shared Decision-making
  4. Food as a Human Right
  5. Emergency Preparedness

What do we mean by Spatial Justice?

What is Spatial Justice? outlines how access to space is connected to broader concepts of equity and social justice.

"The concept of spatial justice comes from the idea that space cannot be separated from how we experience the world. It takes a definition of social justice - the fair distribution of access, resources, and privileges - and applies it to geography."

Toronto Nonprofit Network Spatial Justice Subcommittee Members

  • Samya Hasan : Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA)
  • Melissa Wong : Social Planning Toronto (SPT)
  • Jin Huh : Social Planning Toronto (SPT)
  • Victor Willis : Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC)
  • Rob Howarth : Toronto Neighbourhood Centres
  • Maureen Fair: St. Christopher House now known as West Neighbourhood House
  • John Ryerson: Faith in the City, Co Chair and Space Coalition

Back to the Spatial Justice home page