Public lands and civic spaces
We must preserve the assets built with public dollars for current and future public use
Public lands (land and buildings owned by the government and broader public sector, including surplus school lands) are often sold to the highest bidder without consideration for their local community value. There is a need for a more deliberate approach to assess the value of public lands and engage communities on potential uses that serve the public benefit before they go on the market. Once property is sold to the private market, it becomes part of the speculative economy, whereas if a property is sold to a nonprofit, it continues to serve the public benefit. If a parcel is converted to a community land trust, it can furthermore provide permanently affordable rental and for-purchase housing as well as community amenities like child care centres, social enterprises, community hubs, recreation facilities, and community gardens that are protected from real estate spikes forever. Infrastructure that is needed for services and housing for vulnerable people (like nursing homes, hospitals, disability services) should be protected from being sold and resold on the private market, as these transactions transfer assets built with public funds into private hands; they also increase debt loads and operating costs, placing entire services at risk.
More broadly, Ontarians need access to public spaces to promote civic engagement, social cohesion, and vibrant, healthy communities. In some communities, traditional meeting spaces – churches, schools, and legion halls – are becoming more scarce. Organizing an art class, a public meeting, or a little league game is becoming more of a challenge. Community nonprofits are well positioned to keep these spaces in community hands and retain them for the future as the needs of their surrounding communities evolve. Whether in rural, suburban, or urban communities, nonprofits should be supported to act as stewards of existing and potential lands and facilities.
ONN’s vision: Public lands and buildings remain in public or nonprofit hands for community use
Surplus public lands and the assets on them are first accessible (by gift, purchase, long-term lease, or other arrangement) to the nonprofit sector for public use and benefit, today and in the long term. Community land trusts are increasingly used across Ontario to remove land from the speculative economy and create permanently affordable housing and community amenities. Community access to civic space is supported by strong government policy at the provincial and municipal levels.
Steps we’re taking to meet that vision
We’re advocating for the Ontario Government to mandate the inclusion of broader public sector lands in the existing Nonprofit Lands Registry. With this, qualified nonprofits may have the opportunity to purchase surplus public lands in advance of their availability on the open market.
We’re working with the Ontario nonprofit sector to develop a policy statement on the role and value of public and community-governed assets; and explore the role and value of mechanisms such as Community Land Trusts in providing permanently affordable land for critical services such as nonprofit housing, child care, recreation facilities, and community food/urban gardening initiatives.
We’ve written an in-depth policy document arguing ownership of critical community infrastructure is the best way to ensure key community assets and services are not lost or diminished through profit-seeking pressures and the sale of capital assets. Read Not for Sale: The Case for Nonprofit Ownership of Community Infrastructure and Services.