Sunday, September 30, 2012

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: Expensive Spaces for Charities

There has been some press coverage about the impending rate changes to rent space in Toronto District School Board (TDSB) schools and auditoriums, particularly with respect to the impact on religious groups. For example, rates for unsubsidized groups can be from 5 to over 10 times higher per hour than they are for subsidized groups. I believe the implications of this decision are bad today, and will only get worse over time.

While I appreciate TDSB's desire to address their $110 million budget shortfall, there are two significant issues that such massive increases (even if they don't come into effect for several months) present to all sorts of organizations, the TDSB, and ultimately the entire City of Toronto.

  1. If organizations can't afford the increase, they won't rent the space, resulting not in a decrease to the budget shortfall, but actually an increase (having some rental income on a property with utility costs is better than no income at all)
  2. Even if organizations in the Subsidized Level 2 tier (not to mention the unsubsidized groups) can find the extra funds required, they may be forced to cut back in other areas, reduce hours or staff levels, or cut back on locations (e.g. for some groups there is a maximum of 3 locations before the subsidy does not apply)
In brief, this means fewer services by organizations that in many cases are trying to serve those who need it most.  For example, you can imagine that some of these people being served in TDSB spaces may ultimately face choices around criminal activity, and due to a lack of supports make a bad choice that winds them up in jail, then this is indeed "penny wise and pound foolish".  It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to incarcerate someone, while ensuring robust organizations are in place to help reduce criminality and incarceration only costs (from the point of view of TDSB rents) a few dollars per hour.

It's truly a shame that our way of calculating the "bottom line" only looks at one number - in this case the TDSB's budget shortfall.  This forces short-sighted choices that cost us more as a society in the future.  Surely the better budget is one that includes societal costs and allows groups that save money over time to flourish. Calculating the true value of organizational and program impacts today in years ahead is hard to do, but surely worth doing if we seek maximum value for our donations and tax dollars.