Churches and religious groups have always worked to improve the communities in which they operate, often including the provision of services for those in need. These services have sometimes received funding from government and sometimes not, but have always been delivered at the option of the religious group, which ensures that the services are delivered by choice by these groups and are consistent with their mission.
At its meeting of April 1-3, 2014, City of Toronto Council adopted a recommendation to do the following: (i) create an inventory of facilities and programs funded by the City and located within churches across the City; and (ii) study means for maintaining charitable and community services in their existing locations when a church is sold (together the “Study”). Despite a request by an interested party for clarity as to whether the latter objective was limited to City funded programs, no such clarification was given at Council. Staff are to report back to the June 25, 2014 meeting of the Community Development and Recreation Committee.
While on its surface the Study appears innocuous, its impact could prove very real to those religious organizations impacted by the Study. As set out in the report adopted by Council, the sale of a church can lead to additional costs to the City (presumably either to replace a program run by a church, or to find new space for an existing program) and the intent of the Study is to find a way to reduce the impact of such costs on the City. If such costs are transferred back to the church, it will have a negative impact on the value of the church property and, therefore, have a direct impact on the funding available to the religious organization in order to achieve that organization’s mission.
In essence, depending on the City’s decision, the City’s actions could result in a change from a voluntary to a mandatory transfer of funding or partial funding responsibility for aspects of social programs and services from the City to religious organizations. This transfer could occur even though the sale of a church is a clear indication that the objectives of the religious organization in a particular area have changed, quite often as a result of changing demographics in one area and the need to allocate limited resources to other areas.
If your church currently provides any sort of program assisting the community, you should take an interest in the Study and consider contacting the City. Depending on the conclusions reached through the Study process, the value of your organization’s property could be lowered, which could, in turn, reduce the resources available to your organization to achieve its specific objectives and mission.