SPACE FOR COMMUNITY: Understanding the Real Estate Challenges Affecting the Non Profit / Social Purpose Sector

“Issues of affordability, suitability, security of tenure and long-term sustainability of space, are placing communities under pressure, displacing vital organizations, programs and services.”

With over 29,000 non-profit organizations in BC and thousands of social enterprises, each delivering critical programs and services touching the lives of most citizens in all social groupings and across all sectors (community, social services, environmental, arts/culture, etc), the health of these organizations is fundamental to the health of our province and country. That health is severely affected when the land and facilities in which these sectors' work is compromised, as is the case in urban and adjacent areas in BC. Over the decades, changes in BC's real estate market--from Vancouver to Squamish, adjacent municipalities, Victoria and parts of the Island--have created extreme challenges not only for housing, but for space for non-profits, social enterprises and community owned assets. 

Through an update/expansion of the landmark 2013 Study RENT - LEASE – OWN, the Social Purpose Real Estate Collaborative (SPRE) seeks to further understanding of the challenges facing such organizations within the context of the commercial real estate market, and to build capacity within these sectors and beyond. Policies that preserve space for community are needed--SPACE FOR COMMUNITY will knit together research, programs, policies, provide up to-date data, and outline strategies for action.

“In 2019-20, SPRE working once again with the Real Estate Institute of BC, is commissioning an update/expansion to the 2013 study RENT - LEASE - OWN with municipal partners in Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Victoria, Nanaimo and the City of North Vancouver.”

The 2013 Study was the first-ever to outline the crisis in real estate affecting BC non-profits, and place that data within the larger context of the commercial real estate market. What it revealed was not surprising. With the information delivered in an evidence-based format, RENT – LEASE – OWN enabled agencies, policy makers, and nonprofits to convey the issues in a credible manner, shifting the narrative from one of crisis to one of action and opportunity.

Seven years have passed since the first study and the crisis of affordability has not diminished, rather has spread geographically with other issues coming into play. SPRE is committed to ensuring there is a contemporary understanding of the issues as well as engaging with municipalities and agencies who are concerned about the impacts on their non-profit and social enterprise clients.


SPACE FOR COMMUNITY both updates and expanDS upon 2013 Study:

  • Study Phases - Project Start up; Survey Preparation & Background Research; Survey Implementation (target ~1000 respondents); 7 Capacity Building/Data Collection Workshops targeting 110 participants (one per municipality with 2 in Vancouver); Preliminary Analysis of Data; Draft Directions; Draft and Final Reports; and 6 Knowledge Mobilization Events/Study Dissemination (one per municipality).
  • Research engagement – with an online survey of non-profits and social enterprises; selected interviews including focus group with the SPRE Table; a scan of best practises and policy contexts; and updated real estate market analysis.
  • Workshops“Financial Aspects of Renting, Leasing, Licensing Space” - seven capacity building / data collection workshops were held in each of the participating municipalities (2 in Vancouver). Lead by Martha Burton, non-profit leasing expert and founding member of the SPRE Collaborative, SPRE wass delighted to have her help the social purpose groups build their knowledge, skills and abilities regarding their financial obligations to their spaces. 
  • Geographic scope - areas of BC affected by the affordablity crisis including SPRE member municipalities of Vancouver, City of North Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, Victoria and Nanaimo.
  • Content scope - Studies completed or underway by other agencies will not be duplicated, but results folded into the larger RLO narrative. This includes work on artist cultural spaces, non-profit real estate including places of worship and various municipal studies underway /completed.*

*SPACE FOR COMMUNITY focuses on the real estate issues affecting nonprofits and social enterprises. This includes all sectors from social/community services, arts/culture, environment, childcare/youth/senior services, etc. While nonmarket housing is a critical piece of the social purpose real estate narrative, that sub-sector is well represented in the research and existing advocacy organizations. 


  • 2019-20 Winter/Spring - Literature Review & Background Research
  • 2019-20 Winter - Finanacial Aspects of Renting, Leasing and Licensing Space Workshops
  • 2020 Summer/Fall - Research Report, Focus Groups, Policy and Best Practises Scan
  • 2020 Fall - SPACE FOR COMMUNITY Survey targeting 1000 respondents
  • 2020 Winter - data analysis and report preparation
  • 2021 February - Final Report Released

Project Impact:

At the highest level the 2019 -20 update to RENT – LEASE – OWN is intended to bring greater awareness to the real estate issues affecting non-profit and community spaces. The crisis is not just about housing—it is time we move on to a more robust conversation and associated solutions. Ultimately the Study is intended to impact and influence land use policies to preserve and create space for community. These policies would support affordable, suitable, secure and sustainable space for non-profits and social enterprises to excel at delivering their vital programs and services to communities everywhere.

A positive impact on policies that support the retention of community owned assets is also envisioned, where non-profit, charitable, faith-based and community groups who own land are enabled to maximize the mission-value of that asset. This is a complicated area with multiple stakeholders, complex regulatory systems and often vulnerable organizations weakened by shrinking congregations or participants. The 2019 - 20 SPACE FOR COMMUNITY will bring significantly greater awareness to the issue.

The Study is also designed to positively impact the non-profits, social enterprises and community owned asset owners/participants themselves, to help them build their skills, knowledge, abilities for navigating the real estate market whether in a rental/lease or ownership situations.

Finally, the Study is intended to provide the hard, concrete, credible data for SPRE, SPRE members, REIBC and others to advance their work in the field of non-profit and community sector real estate, and to grow their programming to target specific areas in greatest need.

"2020 SPACE FOR COMMUNITY is generously supported by members of the Social Purpose Real Estate Collabortive with project funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC, BC Housing, Vancity Community Foundation & Vancity Credit Union, the Real Estate Institute of BC, the Community Impact Real Estate Society, the Land Economics Society – Vancouver Chapter, Central City Foundation and the City of Victoria. Additional support from the UBC School of Community & Regional Planning, Housing Research Collaborative and Mitacs was provided for the SPRE Research Internship"