Social purpose real estate (SPRE) - Ontario Nonprofit Network


Real estate

ONN’s goal is to expand nonprofit access to real estate so public lands stay in public hands.
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Social purpose real estate (SPRE)

Community spaces can be best stewarded by nonprofits

Social purpose real estate (SPRE) refers to the availability, accessibility, and affordability of real estate for nonprofits, charities, and communities. These spaces facilitate community development, enhance social interaction and engagement, and generate economic revitalization. Community ownership is more than owning real estate, it means having power to decide how to utilize space and real estate in a way that benefits everyone in the community.

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 a challenge. In addition, Indigenous communities and I4 organizations need access to land for culture-based programming and ceremony. 

There is an urgent need to preserve assets built with public dollars for current and future public use, and to grow multi-purpose infrastructure to meet demand.

Nonprofits are well positioned to meet physical infrastructure needs that communities require, keep these spaces in community hands, and retain them for the future as the needs of their surrounding communities evolve. In fact, nonprofits often want to build community spaces together in mixed use developments both to create community hubs, and to be more economically efficient in development.  

Whether in rural, suburban, or urban communities, public policy that enables nonprofits to steward existing and potential lands and facilities can ensure public ownership of public assets in perpetuity. 

Key areas of focus for social purpose real estate

Although nonprofits have the willingness and expertise to own their spaces, limited access to funding, lack of access to land, and barriers to loans and financing all make it challenging, if not impossible for them to advance social purpose real estate.

We advocate for:

Access to finance tools such as pooled funds to backstop loan guarantees, development and planning grants, rotating loan funds, below market-financing, expansion of the Infrastructure Ontario loans program for all nonprofits, and 99-year leases on public lands from governments for nonprofits.

Surplus public land sale policies that slow the sale of land so nonprofits have a fair opportunity to purchase them through mechanisms such as mandatory inclusion of broader public sector lands in the existing Nonprofit Lands Registry, sales below market rates to nonprofit purchasers, and the first/second right of refusal of surplus public lands and the assets on them by the nonprofit sector.

Community land trusts to remove land from the speculative economy and create permanently affordable housing and community amenities.

Ways nonprofits can take action to support social purpose real estate




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