The Greater 2022 Toronto Non-Profit Community Space Survey Results report tells us that: “Non-profit organizations need stability and predictability to thrive. The lack of affordable community spaces has serious consequences for non-profits and the communities they serve…
- organizations indicate a lack of funding and affordable space as a primary challenge
- few organizations own property
- current space is not currently meeting the needs of many organizations
- organizations have seen recent increases in demand for services
- organizations are willing or are already engaging in a space-sharing arrangement with another nonprofit organization
The Just and Equitable Recovery Table Priorities Document outlines: “Access to space for community-sector agencies is dwindling as affordable and free spaces that were once available in church settings or lower-cost commercial spaces become developed or rent increases. Public spaces like community centres and schools are becoming out of
reach for the community sector to afford, limiting the availability of agencies to have programming close to where clients can access it easily. Without affordable and appropriate space located in the communities they serve, the community sector cannot provide the services that residents need.”
Expanding how we work with the City
In 2018 the City committed “to developing policies and partnerships that improve the community-based not-for-profit sector’s access to decent, affordable facilities and spaces to provide community services and programming. The City recognizes the public benefits that are generated through community-operated and community-owned space in Toronto and is committed to helping build sector capacity to acquire and leverage real estate assets for community use.”
In 2018, City Council approved short- medium- and longer-term actions to sustain effective relationships with the not-for-profit sector. One of those medium-term actions was to improve community space tenancies (page 13).
A focus on space is aligned with existing public priorities. The City of Toronto’s For Public Benefit Framework “commits to developing policies and partnerships that improve the community-based not-for-profit sector’s access to decent, affordable facilities and spaces to provide community services and programming. This includes helping to build capacity in the sector to acquire and leverage real estate assets for community use. The City recognizes the public benefits that are generated through community-operated and community-owned space in Toronto.”
The City of Toronto has a number of programs to support community organizations to deliver direct programs to local neighbourhoods that meet specific community needs. Toronto’s Community Space Tenancy program is one such program. It is no longer enough.
Across the City, as developers propose property developments and commercial landlords raise rents, small community groups are pushed out, with few options on where to go. Nonprofit organizations are being forced out of their neighbourhoods or closing at an alarming rate due to commercial landlords raising rents. Space for these groups must be prioritized in any development planning processes. 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.
Often the focus of discussions on access to community space in Toronto are on the limited scope of City efforts such as:
- Community Space Tenancy - “City of Toronto leases City-owned or City-managed spaces to eligible non-profit organizations to deliver services to residents of Toronto, for a nominal, Below Market Rent. Organizations hold short-term agreements with the City to deliver direct programs to local neighbourhoods that meet specific community needs.”
- Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy - partnering with residents, community agencies and businesses to invest in people, services, programs and facilities in 33 identified Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAs). The strategy aims to activate people, resources and neighbourhood-friendly policies to deliver local impact for city-wide change.
- Community Coordination Plan Clusters - Each Cluster collaborates on real time issues management, identifying and addressing emerging needs, supporting access to resources, and escalating systemic challenges, such as supporting community organizations delivering services for residents to remain open and operational
It is time that the City prioritizes nonprofit spaces in emerging and new development.
Across the City, as developers propose property developments and commercial landlords raise rents, small community groups are pushed out, with few options on where to go. Space for these groups must be prioritized in any development planning processes.
Operating in the fastest-growing city in North America and facing rising real estate values and heightened development and displacement pressures, Toronto’s nonprofit sector is confronting unique challenges related to accessing, developing, and retaining spaces for community purposes and programming.
Much more development in Toronto takes place by private developers. And the City can play a more active role in ensuring that both affordable housing and community & nonprofit spaces are created.
Corporate Real Estate Management - City of Toronto can be better leveraged to create community space vs community space tenancy policy limitations and limitations around other levers. Ensuring that more sites that are available to community organizations should also be a responsibility of Toronto’s development planners.
Consultation through true partnership
It is essential that formal community consultations on the impact of developments be conducted appropriately and comprehensively. This must include a formal and consistent approach to every consultation where community groups are asked about the need for and adequacy of community space, now and in the proposed development plan. This should be operationalized and institutionalized so that all development processes, City or privately led, are required to rigorously consult the expertise and insights of existing residents and community members, leaders, and community organizations working in affected communities.
For example, during the large redevelopment of school lands at Bloor and Dufferin, local groups found a deeply flawed analysis by the developer about community service needs in the area. The developer claimed the area was well-served when instead, a survey of local non-profits showed that many were losing their spaces. The City had accepted the developer’s analysis without question. Not every community will have the capacity, expertise, or coordination to ensure an adequate analysis of local community non-profit space needs. The City needs to ensure more rigorous community/non-profit needs assessments are conducted by developers. The City’s Official Plan is “intended to ensure that the City of Toronto evolves, improves and realises its full potential in areas such as transit, land use development, and the environment.” Chapter 5 of the City’s Official Plan encourages applicants to consult with Councillors and local communities prior to formal submission of an application. The City has public consultation processes that involve multiple ways and opportunities for a community to be consulted for the design of a new public park, in line with local community plans. A similar process can and should be implemented consistently for new developments as well. The Official Plan’s community consultation for development is currently voluntary. It must become mandatory.
The City’s Design Review Panel plays an important role in providing advice to the City. They bring a community perspective to their assessment and advice. Community sector professionals should also have a formal and permanent place on the Panel. While the City is not bound by the advice the Panel provides, they have advised the City and developers to conduct more rigorous community consultations, noting that there is not a standardized expectation of what this looks like.
In one recent Design Review Panel meeting, a panelist suggested that as a “small Canadian town” is being developed at Main and Danforth, developers must “listen to the expertise and insights of the existing residents and community members, leaders, and entities that are doing work in the Dawes Road neighbourhood, making these results available to all of the design teams. This expertise from the community is something I do see lacking from all of these developments. It’s clear that these designers don’t have access to that expertise and it’s hindering their efforts to make good public space and making available amenities that this new town will require. We need to establish a protocol that can measure success in the development design and programming response to what is heard from these community experts. What’s missing from the neighbourhood now? What is working well in the neighbourhood? And perhaps needs to be replicated and augmented in these developments…
Community centre design thinking - how can the proponents cooperate to ensure that the community amenities are located and sized to provide the in-demand services for this neighbourhood and that will serve residents of the new development and the neighbourhood at large. This is the responsibility of these private proponents. How do we make that happen?”
She cites the community consultation for the development of the nearby Dawes Road library as an example of a comprehensive community engagement plan that was followed rigorously. (March 2021 public consultation, December 2021 public consultation)
There is regular consultation in City efforts listed above. We think more can be done to ensure that there are protected spaces for nonprofits in every neighbourhood.. A regular consultation with the city’s community organizations can formally occur through a variety of mechanisms. Given the usefulness of information collected, this should include using a modified version of the survey used in the Greater 2022 Toronto Non-Profit Community Space Survey Results or the survey used to advocate for communities during the Bloor and Dufferin Community Hub development.
As the City leases and sells off publicly-owned lands, there needs to be a clear public benefit. Publicly-owned land is a precious long-term asset and there needs to be community consultations to ensure continuous public benefits.
We seek consultation through formal partnership with the City where planning and decision-making responsibilities around access to secure and affordable community-use spaces are made with the community.