On June 29, Ontarian Minister of Infrastructure Bob Chiarelli announced a new government program aimed at community organizations seeking to re-purpose unused public property. The Surplus Property Transition Initiative allows buildings to be held for up to 18 months as organizations find partners, secure funding, and develop their business plans. This is part of a wide-spread plan to encourage the establishment and growth of what the government has dubbed “community hubs.”

What qualifies as a community hub? It can be any public building; a school, library, health centre or place of worship. Community hubs are exactly what the name implies: places for a community to gather, discuss and plan. They can provide health services, meeting places, or green spaces – it all depends on availability and need. They’re essential to any integrated and involved community; often they come into being naturally, created by necessity and the convenience of an available, central space. But lately there’s been a push towards making them official; thus, the provincial initiative. According to a recent press release, Chiarelli stated that the province intends “to help make it easier for communities to come together and offer services in an integrated and coordinated way, and to make the best use of public space. Our new initiative gives local communities the opportunity they need to use public properties, and build their vibrant and successful hubs.”

Here’s how it works: when a property owned by the Province of Ontario, a public hospital, or a school board (existing regulations still apply), is no longer in use or has been deemed surplus, the program allows up to 18 months for applicants to gather the resources they need to convert the building to a fully functional community hub. The government will also provide financial support to cover ongoing maintenance costs.

Applicants to the program must be eligible organizations such as a municipal government, an Indigenous community, a not-for-profit corporation or a charity. Applications are open between July 4 and October 16 of this year. For more information on community hubs, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/community-hubs-ontario-strategic-framework-and-action-plan; for information on the program and to apply, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/surplus-property-transition-initiative.