Letter to the Premier from the Special Advisor

Dear Premier Wynne,

Thank you for the opportunity to inform the government’s approach to moving forward with community hubs as a key element of your vision for Ontario as the best place to work, live and raise a family.

As Special Advisor, I was given the mandate to review provincial policies and develop a framework for adapting existing public properties to become community hubs. With the support of a nine-member Advisory Group and a Cabinet Office Secretariat, I have spent much of the past 90 days immersed in the local ‘lived’ experience of community hubs. We participated in over 70 stakeholder meetings, read nearly 50 written submissions, reviewed a series of case studies and analyzed hundreds of responses to our online survey. Having been involved in a number of stakeholder engagement processes in the past, I can say I have never before received such a high level of response. The quantity of responses, the substantive thinking that was reflected and the passion behind the submissions was outstanding.

The Province and communities share the perspective that community hubs are vibrant centres of community life that generate economic and social benefits. While the benefits are clear, it is equally clear that one of the barriers to the evolution of community hubs are numerous rules and constraints imposed by the Province, among others. Provincial policies and processes are overly complicated, often fragmented and are driven by ministry-specific requirements rather than being viewed through a lens of community needs and outcomes. This Strategic Framework sets out how the Province can remove its barriers that hinder the adaptation of public properties into community hubs.

It is encouraging to report that we found a significant commitment at every level to drive real change in support of community hubs. All groups, both internal and external to government, have the same goals in mind – fostering strong and vital communities, making services accessible and timely, managing public properties thoughtfully. There are a number of great success stories across the province that have arisen largely due to the work of “local heroes”: local champions who have managed to overcome the barriers of jurisdictional and sectoral silos to create delivery models that effectively meet their communities’ needs.

In the attached report, we have done our best to accurately and comprehensively represent the wealth of input we received, centred on the question: What can/should the Province do to make community hub development easier and more sensitive to community needs? The report also outlines recommendations and actions to move the government forward in a co-ordinated manner to empower communities. While many of the issues and ways forward are immediately clear, there are specific policy and process issues that are complex and need detailed thought and analysis. Our work as an Advisory Group must be seen as the beginning of a sustained conversation between communities, municipalities, local groups and the Province.

I cannot close this letter without acknowledging and thanking the Advisory Group – Michelle Baldwin, Michelle DiEmanuele, James Harbell, Richard Joy, Annie Kidder, Lois Mahon, Sevaun Palvetzian, Doug Reycraft, and Enid Slack – for the knowledge, insight and counsel they provided as I developed my report and recommendations. I would also like to thank the Cabinet Office Secretariat on Community Hubs for their ongoing support, tremendous dedication and strategic advice over a very compressed timeline; the hundreds of stakeholders who took the time and energy to contribute meaningful input; and importantly, the Ministers and their staff, Premier’s Office staff, the Secretary of Cabinet, Deputy Ministers and their staff for their wealth of knowledge as to how best to leverage the considerable work that is currently underway in the ministries that will support the development and operation of community hubs.

This is a historical and exciting moment for communities, and I look forward to working with you on the implementation of the Action Plan.

Signature of Karen Pitre
Karen Pitre
Special Advisor on Community Hubs

Executive Summary

On March 15, 2015, Premier Wynne appointed a Special Advisor on Community Hubs (Karen Pitre) to lead the Premier’s Community Hubs Framework Advisory Group. On April 8, 2015, nine individuals were appointed to the Advisory Group, from a cross section of community, municipal government, health care and education sectors.

The mandate of the Advisory Group is to review provincial policies, research best practices and develop a framework for adapting existing public properties to become community hubs.

Over the past 90 days of its mandate, the Advisory Group has:

  • Gathered targeted input from an online survey, written submissions, e-mails and letters
  • Consulted with communities and stakeholders to ensure that the framework addresses local needs
  • Examined best practices in Ontario and other jurisdictions, and
  • Engaged ministries

We heard from more than 350 organizations and held over 70 meetings with internal and external stakeholders, including sector organizations, local service providers, most provincial ministries and others.

An interactive Community Talk website was launched on April 29, 2015. It was designed to encourage public input, and has since received over 6,000 hits. Ministries notified stakeholders of the online survey, and approximately over 400 responses were received.

Findings from the engagement process indicated an overwhelming interest in and appetite for the development of community hubs. Input provided valuable insights into the challenges and barriers to the development of community hubs, as well as a number of examples of excellent community hubs now in operation across the province.

The Advisory Group’s goal is to identify the provincial barriers that stand in the way of the implementation and operation of community hubs so they can be removed. The challenges that community hubs have encountered include: lack of government coordination within the Province and between provincial and municipal governments; conflicting policies; program silos; unco-ordinated funding; unclear, confusing; time-consuming forms and eligibility criteria; and non-client-focused programs/services. Issues tend to fall into three general categories:

  1. Planning
  2. Integrated Service Delivery
  3. Community Infrastructure/Public Properties

This report frames these as challenges, but this exercise was really one of exploring opportunities. Key recommendations reflect these opportunities, and are accompanied by suggested concrete actions to achieve each recommendation:

  • Provincial Lead for Community Hubs
  • Foster Integrated Service Delivery
  • Develop a Provincial Strategy for Public Properties
  • Remove Barriers and Create Incentives
  • Support Integrated and Long-Term Local Planning
  • Ensure Financially Sustainable Community Hubs
  • Increase Local Capacity
  • Evaluate and Monitor Outcomes

Ontario’s communities are ready, willing and able to drive change if barriers can be removed at all levels. So while we are extremely pleased to be offering recommendations about how the Province can better enable community hubs, we also hope this will spark change at all levels, and allow for the creation of new partnerships to provide the best service outcomes for Ontarians.


What is a “Community Hub”?

Community hubs provide a central access point for a range of needed health and social services, along with cultural, recreational, and green spaces to nourish community life. A community hub can be a school, a neighbourhood centre, an early learning centre, a library, an elderly persons centre, a community health centre, an old government building, a place of worship or another public space. Whether virtual or located in a physical building, whether located in a high-density urban neighbourhood or an isolated rural community, each hub is as unique as the community it serves and is defined by local needs, services and resources.

When people think of community hubs, they think of places where people come together to get services, meet one another and plan together. We’ve heard that community hubs are gathering places that help communities live, build and grow together. No community hub is like another, as each brings together a variety of different services, programs and/or social and cultural activities to reflect local community needs. It is this diversity of activity that allows community hubs to play a critical role in building economic and social cohesion in the community.

Why a Community Hub?

Community hubs are a concept that both communities and policy-makers agree make sense. There are currently over 13 million Ontarians, a figure that is projected to increase by 31 percent over the next two decades according to the Ministry of Finance. Programs and services offered by the government need to keep pace with the complex needs of our growing and diverse population. In addition, the current fiscal environment requires a disciplined focus on finding smarter, better ways to deliver the best possible value for every dollar spent. The Province is faced with both demographic, economic, social and fiscal challenges.

Community hubs offer a number of benefits to respond to these challenges:

  • School-community partnerships – enhance learning opportunities and well-being for students.
  • Respond to local needs – community hubs offer a very concrete way that families can access a range of services. The collaboration between different community agencies and service providers puts residents first and is what makes this model truly unique.
  • More efficient and sustainable services – providing access to local early-intervention programs can also forestall more intensive and costly programs later. Some economies of scale can also be achieved through shared back-office duties. Funders also benefit from co-location of service providers, increasing service access and reducing duplication.
  • Improved access to services and better outcomes for people – co-locating and/or providing wrap-around services through a community hub provides individuals with access to a broader range of services through increased connectivity leading to improved results. For example, Public Health initiatives in schools can reach 95 percent of children and youth who attend Ontario’s 5,000 publicly funded schools (statistics provided by the Ministry of Education).
  • Social return on investment – integrated service delivery models can save money in other sectors and generate a Social Return on Investment (SROI). There is currently a lack of evidence-based research on community hubs; however, SROI is an emerging model for measuring the social value relative to the resources invested.

Social Return on Investment is a combination of social, financial and environmental value. It’s designed to ensure the perspectives of all stakeholders are taken into account.footnote 1

Examples from multiservice, place-based delivery of services demonstrate the following investment ratios:

Parallel examples to community hub modelsJurisdictionSocial return per $1 investment
Craft Café (Seniors)footnote 2Scotland8.27
Community Championsfootnote 3Scotland5.05
Beltline Aquatic & Fitness Centrefootnote 4Calgary, Alberta4.84
Minnesota Public Libraries’ ROIfootnote 5United States4.62
Schools as Community Hubsfootnote 6Edmonton, Alberta4.60
Peter Bedford Housing Associationfootnote 7London, England4.06
Centrepointe Early Childhood Resource Centrefootnote 8Ottawa2.39

Table developed by WoodGreen Community Services

The benefits of community hubs were validated again and again as we met with and reviewed input from hundreds of organizations and individuals representing a cross section of sectors. What became clear in this exercise is that community hubs embody incredible energy, leadership and creativity at the community level in Ontario. In developing community hubs, these communities are creating unique solutions to issues of accessibility and service delivery at the local level.

The Challenge and the Opportunity

The Province and communities share the perspective that community hubs are vibrant centres of community life that generate economic and social benefits. While the benefits are clear, it is equally clear that there are numerous rules and constraints imposed by the Province, among others. Provincial policies and processes are often complicated, fragmented and are driven by ministry-specific requirements rather than being viewed through a lens of community needs and outcomes.

However, through her mandate letters to ministers and the Speech from the Throne, the Premier has demonstrated the government’s commitment to making progress. The good news is that there is already fantastic work that is happening in ministries and in communities across the Province. The challenge will be harnessing and expanding on that good work.

This Strategic Framework sets out how the Province can remove barriers that hinder the adaptation of public properties into community hubs; however, all levels of government and the broader community have a role to play.

The journey so far

The challenge presented by the Premier was to identify provincial barriers that get in the way of community hub development and to provide recommendations regarding processes and incentives to minimize and/or eliminate these barriers and to capitalize on emerging opportunities. Our timelines have been very short, the rationale being that there has already been much written, a lot of discussion, and an existing clear and solid understanding as to the value of community hubs.

It did not take long for stakeholders and those involved in community development to find their way to us. To many, just starting the conversation was a positive signal that the Premier understands that community hubs play a vital role in our communities. The initial response was overwhelming, as it came from all over the Province and from multiple sectors.

While a number of Ministers (Education, Health and Long-Term Care, Municipal Affairs and Housing, Community and Social Services, and Seniors) have community hubs as part of their specific mandate, the interest across government was universal. As part of the process, there were two meetings with the Deputy Ministers’ Council, which includes all 24 Deputy Ministers, and further followup with 16 of the Deputy Ministers on specific initiatives to foster the development of community hubs. All are determined to find a way to assist in the evolution of community hubs. There is a lot of support for better alignment within the government for a cross-ministry approach.

As part of the outreach strategy, ministries informed their stakeholders about the community hubs initiative. We established a designated community hubs website, launched on April 29, 2015 (ontario.ca/communityhubs) with a survey and designated email address. The website has received approximately 6,000 hits and over 400 survey responses/submissions to date.

We also received over 50 written submissions with representation across multiple sectors across the province. The quality of the responses is excellent and forms the foundation for both the Strategic Framework and the Action Plan. Clearly people have been thinking about this for a long time.

In addition, individual sectors did their own outreach. This included the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), Northern Ontario Service Deliverers Association (NOSDA), the Ontario Library Association and Aboriginal representatives. These organizations brought a unique perspective from the north and rural Ontario. As another example, the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) did a survey of their members. The survey resulted in 545 responses representing a wide cross section of interests with excellent ‘lived’ experience, information and suggested solutions. In addition, we participated in a webinar with 100 non-profit organizations from across the province.

We also received excellent advice from those who have planned, built, operated and managed community hubs – there is a wealth of knowledge and these community leaders have been an amazing resource.

We have attended numerous conferences and committee meetings, from the Association of Health Centres and the City School Boards Advisory Committee to the Ontario Coalition for Children and Youth Mental Health, as well as others. We also partnered with WoodGreen Community Services and asked them to conduct a review of the evidence base for community hub models.

We attended over 70 stakeholder meetings with sector organizations, ministry officials and local service providers from multiple sectors, including:

  • Non-profit
  • Municipal
  • Health
  • Seniors
  • Social Services
  • Justice
  • Education
  • Aboriginal
  • Francophone

Having said this, we know there are many more organizations that are interested in sharing their experiences and providing advice as to how to build stronger communities. These discussions will continue; this is the start of an ongoing, sustained conversation.

We have also received high-quality written submissions and reports to support our work. We will determine how best to share this information, as there is a wealth of knowledge that we have collected through this process.

What we heard

We have gathered outstanding feedback from a number of rich and diverse communities. In addition, a number of ministries prepared presentations and background materials that provided information on their current programs and mandates. This information provided by ministries reaffirmed that solutions are possible, and, in some cases, work is already underway.

The examples and stories that we heard highlight successful service integration and demonstrate how barriers are overcome with leadership and collaboration. Libraries and daycare are just two of the many successful examples of community hubs:

Public libraries are an infrastructure already located in many communities. Libraries are considered a friendly, safe space. They already are engaged in assisting people in accessing many of the services/resources that could be delivered through community hubs. They have established community partnerships, offer equity of access, and are staffed with professional information providers/interpreters who are familiar with the communities they serve.

Survey Respondent

Child care in schools is another successful example of a community hub. Access to child care within schools provides family with accessible care and an easier transition when children go onto Full-Day Kindergarten. Child care and early learning are an integral part of serving the needs of families and children. Having child care in schools successfully demonstrates how partnerships can be adapted in schools across the province.

Although barriers do exist, there are currently a large number of community hubs responding to local needs through service integration. We recognize the success stories and outstanding examples of community hubs that currently exist across the province and appreciate the commitment to serving local needs. In the following pages, we have highlighted a few of these examples from across the Province.

Examples of existing community hubs across the province

Langs (Cambridge)

Established as an organization in 1978, Langs established a community hub in Cambridge in 2012 that hosts close to 25 service agencies with a wide array of services, including an Early Years Satelite Centre, adult and seniors programs, as well as health and wellness education programs, all within an impressive 58,000 square feet of green space. The Langs Hub co-locates the organization’s Community Health Centre with a municipal seniors centre, along with diabetes education, mental health services and social services organizations that housing, employment, education, social support, food security, gender, and environment services to overcome many of the barriers associated with access to care.

The Mount Community Centre (Peterborough)

In August 2013, the Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network, supported by several non- profit community agencies, purchased the Mount St. Joseph convent, which was later renamed “The Mount Community Centre.” The building will be transformed into five community hubs, including housing, food, arts and culture, health and social services, and ecology. The Mount Community Centre will provide close to 100 affordable and market- housing units, a performing arts space, a community food service, health and social services, and a community garden. This is a great example of how vacant property can be remodeled into a community asset, with a strong social purpose.

Fusion Youth Activity and Technology Centre (FYATC) (Ingersoll)

In 2005, the Town of Ingersoll developed a strategic plan for Downtown Revitalization, which focused on addressing the needs of youth over the age of 12. The Town purchased the Sacred Heart Catholic School so that it could be repurposed to serve as the location for the Fusion Youth Activity and Technology Centre (FYATC), for youth between the ages of 12 and 18. This Centre provides various youth programs, including arts, music, sports, cooking, technology, job training, and leadership. The FYATC is municipally owned and operated under the Town’s Parks and Recreation department, and is run by an on-site manager.

Le Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury

Le Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury (CSCGS) is a model with innovative practices, deep community engagement, and a specific demographic focus. Serving the third largest immigrant francophone population in Canada, CSCGS offers education, employment, and environment services and programs along with its mission to address the social determinants of health. For instance, as per its agreement with the city, CSCGS holds the lead position on homelessness, and in turn coordinates with other service delivery agencies, to avoid service duplication. The four target groups for CSCGS are youth, women, seniors, and hard to reach populations.


The Town of Petawawa in Eastern Ontario is entering an agreement with the Renfrew County District School Board to cement the concept of community hubs through developing and sharing community recreation facilities. With this agreement, students will have access to curling and hockey rinks, while the town’s residents will be able to access gym facilities within the school. A nearby Catholic school will also be able to benefit from this agreement. Working together, these local governments are finding a way to keep administrative burdens low while improving service access for their local citizens.

London Family Centre Service System (City of London)

Family Centres in London, Ontario are community hubs where different service providers can seamlessly offer support to families, under one roof, and in an integrated manner. Here, families not only have easy access to resources and information, they also benefit from parenting and early learning programs, education and child care, public health and wellness, and recreation services. While all Family Centres share the core function of community development and engagement, each centre has also been successful in tailoring its services and programs to reflect its local character and uniqueness.

The Wequedong Lodge (Thunder Bay)

In 2010, the Wequedong Lodge of Thunder Bay, in partnership with the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services Corporation (OAHS), acquired and renovated an old school to create 110 units for urban and rural First Nation, Inuit and Métis people accessing health services in Thunder Bay. Wequedong Lodge offers services such as transportation, accommodation, translation and meals. Wequedong Lodge demonstrates how old schools can be repurposed into community infrastructure and create a Social Return on Investment.

Bathurst-Finch Community Hub (BFCH) (Toronto)

The Bathurst-Finch Hub offers medical as well as community services. On its 16,000 square feet of new build, the hub offers streamlined services to community residents with multiple social services, all in one location. Through a partnership of 11 organizations, with Unison Health and Community Services as the lead, the hub houses a community health centre, a dental clinic, mental health programs, settlement services for newcomers, employment support, and help with legal matters. Moreover, it includes community space, free to the public, where local residents can meet and connect. The Bathurst-Finch Hub is just one of eight community hubs in Toronto, each with its own unique combination of organizations and community space. These eight hubs were developed with financial and organizational support from United Way Toronto.

Strathroy Public Library (Municipality of Strathroy-Caradoc)

The Strathroy-Caradoc Library not only serves as an information, learning and leisure hub for residents, but it also provides office space to Service Canada, Middlesex social services, and may be booked by other community agencies as needed . Middlesex county and the Library Board have partnered to redesign the way services are delivered to the community, and have trained their librarians to provide enhanced government information. This re-design meets the needs of rural citizens, who may have limited access to public transit and limited ability to visit the closest urban centre.

Potential challenges of community hubs

Despite all these great local examples, stakeholders told us that there are number of barriers that inhibit the development of community hubs. Our stakeholder engagement has been intense over the past 90 days, and has demonstrated there is a real interest and appetite to change the way communities interact with the provincial government. This is what we heard with respect to the challenges:

To assist in understanding the issues that have emerged from the incredibly rich feedback we received, we have organized the responses according to three general categories:

  1. Planning
  2. Integrated service delivery
  3. Community infrastructure/Public property

The dividing lines between these three categories and the corresponding feedback we received are not hard and fast; the stages and issues overlap. As an example, issues around funding and financing weave through each stage. However, we believe that categorizing the issues in this manner is the right approach to help us move forward.


Stakeholders raised planning time and time again as a central issue. Planning, whether locally or in conjunction with the Province, needs to be co-ordinated, and the right partners need to be at the table. There are two major challenges to co-ordinated planning:

  • Need for a provincial community planning table
  • Multiple local planning tables

Need for a provincial community planning table

The current structure at the Province results in ministry planning that is done vertically, not horizontally. This means that each ministry’s planning process is developed for its specific mandate, whether it is Education, Health and Long-Term Care, Children and Youth Services, Aboriginal Affairs, etc. The Premier’s Mandate letters to the six ministers to work together to develop a policy that supports the development of community hubs is a first step to bringing the ministries together. These letters, tailored for each minister, contain a list of priorities to be completed over the course of the government’s four-year mandate, and each reference to the community hub strategy is slightly different depending on the ministry.

Despite the mandate letters, we have heard that there is currently no single place in government to bring together all community planning that is done at the provincial level, such as planning of infrastructure, long-term care and employment, social supports and training. We also heard that there is a strong support within government to change the way planning is done. But it will require changes in behaviour, policy, and legislation to make it happen. There is a need to remove these barriers and create incentives to make it successful. It will take time and strong leadership.

Leaders of community hubs say they face a daunting landscape of multiple contact points with the Province and a maze of incompatible policies and processes for service delivery integration and capital planning. As a result, agencies report they have to deal with multiple ministries and in some cases, multiple programs within the same ministry - each of which has separate funding agreements and different reporting, accountability and timelines requirements.

Multiple local planning tables

What we heard time and time again is that local communities know best what is needed for their community. Community hubs have developed due to the leadership of “local heroes” based on local needs, and they have faced a variety of challenges.

One of the major challenges identified for local community hubs is leadership and accountability. There is no designated lead for overall community planning; it currently includes municipalities, school boards, social services, health and long-term care agencies, as well as many others. It can be difficult to clarify roles, as community hubs involve these multiple local partners as well as provincial interests. It takes time to determine who should lead the process - “local hero,” municipality, non-profit agency or another leader. In cases involving a Community Health Centre, there is a lack of clarity as to whether they are mandated by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to be the lead agency, but this may or may not be the best role in the local context.

The Local planning is further complicated by the geographical boundaries of school boards, municipalities, Consolidated Municipal Service Managers (CMSM), District Social Services Administration Boards (DSSABs), Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) and other agencies that do not align. This leads to multiple planning tables, different mandates and complicated relationships. This is also the case when there are geographic boundaries between Northern and Southern Ontario that do not align with the other boundaries. For example, the Parry Sound DSSAB, which is responsible for the management and delivery of human services, must coordinate its local planning for social services across 22 municipalities, two unincorporated territories, and two Local Health Integration Networks. The DSSAB is considered part of Northern Ontario for the purposes of some programs and part of Southern Ontario for others. This is only one such example we heard from municipalities about complicated challenges associated with different provincial boundaries.

Some of the local planning challenges that have also been identified include:

  • Lengthy and costly process to:
    • assess the needs of the community
    • identify the services and service providers to meet these needs
    • develop and maintain the partnerships
  • Zoning by-laws and differing regulatory regimes conflicting with the establishment of community hubs
  • Government funding approval processes that are not aligned and with different eligibility criteria
  • School boards with a mandate and a process to look at the education requirements in a community. In the absence of a community lead, they often have the burden to take into consideration the full value of schools as community assets
  • No framework to determine the viability of public ownership of surplus property – either for a portion of the site or the entire site
  • No inventory of surplus public properties available to local planners and community groups

Currently, the Province is undertaking multiple planning reviews, and it will be important to ensure the provincial interest and local mandate is reflected. There is an opportunity in the context of these reviews to require more integrated local planning.

Some ministries and Infrastructure Ontario (IO) have excellent Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that could be used to enhance capacity to plan community needs. For example, the Ministry of Education’s GIS for Early Years programing provides a map that overlays a variety of services and demographics that allows for better service planning.

Integrated service delivery

Many respondents talked about the importance of going beyond co-location towards truly integrated service delivery. The Province funds several programs and services that could be leveraged or integrated. There are many ministries currently working on integrated service delivery. However, a number of barriers impede the progress towards an integrated service delivery model.

These barriers include:

  • Start-up funding
  • Funding silos
  • Transfer payments and accountability
  • Measuring inputs, not outcomes
  • Sustainable funding
  • Privacy legislation
  • Local capacity and resources

Start-up funding

Despite the demand for integrated services that meet a continuum of need, organizations and agencies face administrative burdens and funding complexities when trying to create a community hub to deliver integrated services. Various organizations have outlined that the costs associated with starting up a community hub do not always account for the costs associated with integrating services.

Some organizations recommend start-up funding to address costs associated with merging services, such as administrative support, leadership roles, long-range planning, service delivery, reporting and accountability, recruitment of staff, training, and ongoing evaluation.

There is recognition that the initial planning stage requires start-up resources. We have identified a few examples where funding is available for this stage of the process. Health Links is an interdisciplinary model of care at the clinical level, which seeks to improve the co-ordination of care for patients, improve patient outcomes and achieve better value for investment. As part of this program, funding was provided for the initial planning stage.

Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) has also recognized this as an important requirement for success. OTF is funding seed grants that support projects at the idea or conceptual stage to achieve a priority outcome.

Funding silos

We heard that individual needs are changing and becoming increasingly complex. Communities require government programs and services that respond to unique individual needs as they evolve and change over time. The continuum of service delivery required in local communities has generated a demand for accessible and integrated services.

Stakeholder feedback and submissions highlight funding silos as a key barrier to partnerships and integration of services with other agencies. Funding silos and their associated complexities have also led to the problem of funding programs rather than outcomes. Government should move away from a one-size fits all approach to service provision and should instead look at streaming clients according to the level and nature of support they require. Standardized approaches to the delivery of services results in ineffective use of program funds.footnote 9

Funding silos lead to rigid and inflexible funding parameters where agencies and organizations are restricted from integrating services to generate better outcomes. There may also be challenges from the multitude of providers in communities competing for delivery dollars. Often, integration of delivery is seen as leading to job loss as two entities merge resources and staff. Traditional organizations or agencies often take pride in their identity and currently thrive in an environment with specific donations, fundraising activities, or naming rights and prestige. Various groups recommend providing incentives to encourage partnerships between organizations/agencies and eliminate negative perceptions or barriers that prevent groups from coming together to enhance service delivery and outcomes.

Even when partnerships are established, there is still the ongoing challenge of managing the vitality, trust, and communication associated with the partnership. A large number of survey submissions highlight partnerships as an ongoing and complex challenge because each organization/agency has its own culture, identity, structure, priorities, vision, and mandate. Establishing a partnership with a common vision, charter, mandate and priorities, while also allowing space for each individual organization/agency, can be hard to achieve. Various groups suggest that strong leadership and establishing shared agreements between the organizations/agencies from the beginning of a partnership provides a strong and effective way to ensure services are integrated and not just co-located.

Providing greater funding flexibility to community hubs based on outcomes will help address these challenges by removing the program funding requirements that do not allow for service integration. The Province is currently conducting a comprehensive Program Review, Renewal and Transformation of all government programs. This review provides an opportunity for government to review program funding with a view towards supporting greater integration and achieving better client outcomes.

Transfer payments and accountability

Community hub service providers also face multiple transfer payment agreements and contractual/reporting requirements that can be duplicative and burdensome for the provider. Each program has its own mandate, funding rules, population focus, and delivery structure. In addition, multiple provincial programs from multiple ministries with different reporting timelines, benchmarks and requirements force agencies to spend resources on complicated and time-consuming deliverables that are inconsistent. A predominant theme through our survey feedback was the strong recommendation that consistent and transparent transfer payment agreements should be established across ministries. ONN has suggested the implementation of an integrated umbrella agreement for community hubs that receive more than one provincial funding stream. The government is undertaking a Transfer Payment Administrative Modernization project that is working with ministries to streamline business practices to help reduce administrative barriers for service providers and demonstrate better accountability for public funds.

Measuring inputs, not outcomes

In addition, there is no common measurement system. Therefore, even if there are measured outcomes, there is no standardized system that would allow for an analysis of what works and what does not. There is work to be done to develop outcome-focused indicators of success, taking into account the diversity of models and different objectives that apply to community hubs.

As a starting point, the Province has recently undertaken work to develop a framework to support youth outcomes through its Stepping Up Framework that could be used as a model. The Framework outlines a set of 20 outcomes that are designed to support service providers, foundations, community groups, governments, young leaders and families – to better align their work with what research and youth themselves say is important for their success.

Sustainable funding

While funding in silos can be a problem in terms of community hub development, ongoing funding is also a challenge in terms of sustainability. Many groups have stated that the long-term viability and flexibility of a community hub depends on its ability to adapt and respond to evolving community needs. This can often involve reallocating resources to achieve better outcomes, such as new integrated programing, data collection/analysis and changes to staffing requirements.

Community hubs are often precluded from including commercial operations to help defray some of their capital and operating costs. Consideration should be given to allowing for commercial space that is compatible with the community hub and serves the local community, and supports the sustainability of the community hubs business model. In addition, there are potential anchor tenants that might be a good fit for a community hub and provide a consistent revenue stream. Provincial opportunities could include Employment Ontario, community courts, Social Justice Tribunals or other provincial service providers that currently lease commercial or standalone space.

Privacy legislation

As organizations/agencies partner and strive towards integrated service delivery, many groups face privacy requirements regarding information sharing. Groups have expressed frustration when trying to provide wrap-around services that have separate guidelines or requirements that keep a client’s file/information in separate protected systems for each service the client receives.

We heard that the sharing of personal information among different entities in a community hub can improve services for clients. However, navigating the different rules for protection of personal information can be challenging. We heard from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services that they are working with the Information and Privacy Commissioner on this issue.

The Ontario Working Group on Collaborative, Risk-driven Community Safety has suggested an approach to improving collaboration between multiple human service entities that could be useful in a community hubs context. Through a Four-Filter Approach to sharing of information, entities are better able to, within existing privacy policy, “identify the need and develop immediate plans for multi-agency interventions…intended to reduce elevated risk situations that, if left unattended, are highly likely to create harm to individuals, families or the community.

Local capacity and resources

Organizations and agencies often experience a lack of centralized information or data sharing that would help assess community needs and outcomes. This could serve as an important building block for establishing new community hubs. Many groups would like to see a central place or point of contact that organizations/agencies could go to when considering the development of a community hub. Many successful community hubs exist across the province and are models that others would like to learn from. Collecting the data and information in one open and transparent place can provide valuable resources and information to those considering a community hub model.

In addition, many groups would go even further than resource sharing. They suggest that a community hubs resource package be developed and include standard template forms for internal community hub operations (e.g., evaluation, planning, and partnership agreements), in addition to application forms that would streamline the funding application process. This could also include multi-stakeholder template agreements for organizations seeking to operate community hubs as partnerships.

While template forms could provide a tangible and consistent process for community hub operations, many groups have identified a need for additional training and resources. Skills training for budget planning, community engagement/consultation, and collaborative partnerships would help groups establish and successfully operate financially sustainable community hubs.

Community infrastructure and public properties

Despite the innovation and planning happening on the ground, there are challenges in local communities when it comes to space and infrastructure. In some cases there is excess, underutilized space, and in other cases, there is a lack of space.

The Province has a role to play in this issue as the owner or capital contributor to many public spaces. We have heard about schools in particular, and we know this issue is top of mind for many communities that are facing the difficult decision of whether their school should remain open. While we recognize this issue, in the context of our mandate we see underutilized schools and the community use of schools as part of a larger, systemic planning challenge that requires a multi-pronged approach.

We heard from a number of groups that they had programs ready to offer, and partnerships in place, but could not find appropriate space at the right time. These are the key barriers related to retaining and using public properties for community hubs:

  • No accessible comprehensive public properties database
  • Planning in silos
  • Sale at fair market value (FMV)
  • Circulation process for surplus property
  • Access to school space
  • Capital funding for Community Hubs
  • Property management, liability and security issues
  • Design of new buildings

No accessible comprehensive public properties database

Many organizations told us they were not aware of public properties that might become available in the future, so they couldn’t plan properly to take advantage of the opportunities when they arose. They would like access to an up-to-date inventory of all public properties, including those at the municipal level. Currently the Province maintains a database at Infrastructure Ontario for surplus property, but it does not include a comprehensive inventory that can be accessed by all.

Planning in silos

Individual ministries prepare their capital plans based on their ministry needs. This means there is no overall provincial lens to review the inventory of public properties prior to decisions being made to dispose of property that might be surplus to the needs of one ministry. It also means that there is no capital planning that looks at co-location of compatible uses, which could lead to integrated service delivery in a community hub. We also heard that ministries do not have a complete inventory of surplus properties to be used as part of the planning process. One ministry might need what is “surplus” to another ministry, but there is currently no comprehensive inventory of all assets to allow for this level of planning.

Sale at fair market value (FMV)

The current mandate of the provincial government is to sell surplus property at fair market value to ensure taxpayers receive the highest value for the property. Many people and organizations felt that selling public properties at market value does not properly recognize the economic and social value of the services that an asset repurposed for the public good could provide. As it stands now, there is no systematic cost-benefit analysis of the potential value of surplus property from a socio-economic perspective, including the social, recreation, cultural, park land, affordable housing, intensification and health requirements of a community. There is no framework for a comprehensive review to determine the requirement and viability of public ownership of surplus property – either for a portion of the site or the entire site.

Stakeholders told us that in the review of schools, the Province should not discourage the closure of schools altogether. There may be other socio-economic value which is not considered in the current Fair Market Value analysis, and therefore opportunities may be missed. For example, one organization wanted to buy a school to leverage affordable housing funding, but could not get the financing to pay market value for the school. The need for affordable housing in the community was evident, but there was no way for the property to be “priced” in a way that recognized the broader social value of affordable housing to the community. This planning and broader consideration of socio-economic value is a challenge that should not be borne by the Ministry of Education and school boards alone.

Circulation process for surplus property

We heard a number of issues around the circulation of property. There is a limited circulation list and not all potential end users are consistently included (e.g., DSSABs and Aboriginal communities). The other issue is the limited time for review. For schools specifically, we heard that the current process for reviewing schools does not give potential partners/bidders enough time to develop plans and proposals for use of the property.

Access to school space

If a school is being used by a community partner in part of its space, and students are being taught in another part and the school is therefore fully utilized by the community, only the student spaces are funded by the Ministry of Education. Although schools support community use of the space, they often end up subsidizing these uses, and may eventually have to declare the space “surplus” to the needs of education. We heard that it should not fall to the school boards to ensure these community services are being provided and paid for. There needs to be a way to recognize and value these partnerships.

There is no mechanism to assess this space in the school that is used by the community. If permit fees or lease/rent agreements do not fully cover the operating and renewal costs for this community space, it falls to the school board to subsidize the use of this space by community partners. There is a suggestion that a multilateral consultative relationship with the municipality, CMSM/DSSAB, the school boards and the province will provide a way to retain public ownership of schools when there is agreement among the parties that the site should be retained.

This does not mean that some underutilized school properties will not be sold. It does mean that this decision could be made in a more integrated way that allows for the full consideration of the potential school use into the future.

Capital funding for community hubs

We heard from Ontario Nonprofit Network that the provincial government can support community assets by facilitating loans for the non-profit sector. Lending institutions are often reluctant to loan to non-profits. Infrastructure Ontario already provides a loans program in which organizations in certain nonprofit sectors may qualify. Eligible sectors include narrowly defined community health/social service community hubs and arts training organizations, but many other sectors are excluded.

We heard of many examples where the funding cycles between the ministries were not aligned, and opportunities have been lost because the priority in one ministry is to sell while the other ministry doesn’t have funding in the current funding cycle but might need the asset in the future. As an example, one emerging hub told us about losing the opportunity to co-locate a Community Health Centre (CHC) with a school when the CHC’s earlier funding year allocation of capital money could not be held to await the new school funding decision.

We heard that the provincial health capital planning process is too long and lacking the flexibility to seize local opportunities as they arise. Once projects exceed a certain cost threshold, other requirements apply, including matching funding, that make it difficult for community hubs to obtain timely funding.

We heard from the Association of Ontario Health Centres that the current rules from the Province that guide the capital process for community health care organizations can be misaligned and too rigid to achieve integrated, person-centred care.

Property management, liability and security issues

Once a site is found, we heard that to run a truly integrated community hub that organizations sometime need help finding/funding people to assist with property management. In schools, we heard that there is no one to assume the “property manager” role and it falls to the principal to manage.

When utilizing schools as community hubs, building management during the months of July and August must be considered, as school principals are the designated site managers. Smaller boards, in particular, do not have large planning departments or the resources to coordinate the community development and ongoing maintenance of substantive hubs.

Ontario Public School Board Association (Submission)

Many groups, including municipalities and school boards, have noted challenges with forming partnerships in schools. While schools can operate as community hubs, they face significant challenges with security and liabilities associated with community use.

Design of new buildings

Although many groups talked about repurposing existing public properties, we also heard that assets for the future need to be better designed to respond to the changing needs and demographics of local communities.

For example, while funding is available to integrate child care facilities into new schools, there is often no mechanism to plan for broader community partnerships that might include a multi-use, inter-generational design unless a community partner contributes to the development. Instead, the Province tends to build or fund single-purpose facilities that may not be open in the evenings, on the weekends or during the summer.

Population and geographic considerations

We heard clearly that the policy solutions that work for urban and rural settings are very different. Urban settings are subject to increasing density, creating a need for public space to live active, healthy lifestyles. Rural settings are experiencing a decline in population and shifting demographics, which make it more difficult to keep public spaces viable. Access to services is also more difficult in remote, northern and rural communities. Notably, rural communities face the problem of not having access to transportation that could get them to and from the community hub. We heard that it would be helpful to explore the idea that a hub can be a "virtual entity" - a community networking group of people who ensure that all are served well, gaps are identified, and new services are incubated as needed.

It is also important to recognize the specific needs of unique communities including French-language and Aboriginal communities, newcomers, as well as people with disabilities. We heard that French-language communities need a model that is inclusive and of high quality to avoid supporting assimilation.

Similarly, we heard about unique needs and pressures on Ontario’s Aboriginal communities. The Aboriginal population in our province is growing at nearly five times the rate of the non-Aboriginal population. Between 2006 and 2011, the total number of people who identify as Aboriginal in Ontario has grown by an estimated 58,935, an increase of 24.3 percent, in comparison to 4.8 percent among non-Aboriginal people. Most Aboriginal people in Ontario live off-reserve, representing 84.1 percent of their total population. This population growth has placed additional service delivery and infrastructure pressures on Friendship Centres to meet the unique needs of urban Aboriginal people.footnote 10

Seniors are the fastest growing sector of the population. The number of people aged 65 and over is projected to more than double from about 2.1 million, or 15.2 percent of the population, in 2013 to over 4.5 million, or 25.5 percent, by 2041. In 2015, for the first time, seniors will account for a larger share of the population than children aged 0–14.footnote 11

Many groups indicated that issues of accessibility often prevent access to integrated services in their community – both in terms of physical location as noted above, as well as through the lens of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which aims to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities by 2025 through a phased approach. The AODA requires all providers of goods and services to comply with customer service standards deigned to ensure people with disabilities can obtain, use, and benefit from them.

Strategic framework

We have learned that each community is unique, with a specific set of resources and a combination of service needs and capabilities. Each successful community hub is therefore a unique solution to local needs. It would be a mistake to attempt to control this community-driven process from the top down. The Province needs to play a collaborative role in facilitating co-ordination and addressing barriers at the provincial level. We have therefore attempted to capture the essence of a community hub in terms of vision, principles and goals. We want these to become a touchstone that provides common ground for continuing conversations and collaboration, as well as direction and guidance to ensure community hubs evolve successfully in Ontario. Based on consultation with community groups and the public service, I am optimistic that there are enormous opportunities available to enhance the role of community hubs in the province.


We want Ontario to be the best place to work, live and raise a family, and community hubs are a part of that vision.

Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario


  1. Strengthening communities requires provincial leadership
  2. Community planning is done locally with strong local leadership
  3. Community needs should drive integrated service delivery
  4. Community use is an integral part of provincial public property planning
  5. Community hubs are built through collaboration and shared responsibility


  • Co-ordinated Planning: A coordinated system of planning that encourages partnerships and builds on what works
  • Client-focused Service Delivery: A delivery system that provides integrated services to people in their communities
  • Community Infrastructure/Public Properties: A system that maximizes the use of public properties for community benefit

Action plan

This exercise was really one of exploring opportunities and laying out a plan for action. While we did hear about challenges, one thing was universal – there is overwhelming support for integrated service delivery through community hubs. We see the opportunity to meet some of the challenge with specific fixes that we think can happen relatively quickly. There are also larger systemic challenges that may take longer to implement because they require a change in behaviour and procedures at all levels. In the words of one of the submissions to our website:

“The roots of these barriers may differ, but the first steps to overcoming them are the same: earnest, forward-thinking conversations that build relationships and trust between system partners. These conversations take time, planning and resources.”

Overall, this is an exercise in bringing people, groups and processes together.

Based on the feedback we heard and the principles we developed, we propose an Action Plan that allows the Province to have the greatest impact, as an enabler as well as a partner, in achieving our community hub vision. Most of these action items will address issues raised by the full range of community hubs. We have also identified a few actions specific to health and education that we believe can be accomplished quickly.

Our foundational recommendation for provincial leadership is one that is critical for successful implementation of the action plan.

Foundational recommendation: Provincial Lead for Community Hubs

To be successful, there is a requirement for strong provincial leadership to implement the Community Hub Framework and Action Plan. It will be crucial that the government sustain this work in order to generate longer-term benefits to communities throughout the province.

The Provincial Lead would work across ministries to implement the Action Plan and further develop the recommendations. This would require resources and accountabilities to be aligned across ministries to ensure effectiveness of the role, and structural realignment may be necessary.

It will be critical for the Provincial Lead to have relationships with the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Ministry of Finance, as they are responsible for the fiscal plan, ensuring stewardship of public funds, and leading government efforts on accountability, openness and modernization.

Many of our recommendations centre on processes and practices within ministries that were established to deliver services to Ontarians in an effective and accountable way. We know that ministries cannot act alone to solve these issues, and we know that some approaches cannot be changed without a full review of the impact on accountability and the fiscal plan. The Provincial Lead would be responsible for the integration required to implement the Strategic Framework and Action Plan.

Action item

  • Formalize a structure to be responsible and accountable within government for overseeing the implementation of the Community Hubs Framework and Action Plan.

Integrated Service Delivery

Action Items:

  • Establish incentives for agencies/organizations that demonstrate integrated service delivery.
  • Simplify transfer payment accountability requirements to increase funding flexibility and reduce administrative burden for service providers.
  • Work with the Information and Privacy Commissioner to leverage existing work to establish protocols that protect privacy while allowing appropriate sharing of client information.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of current and planned provincial integrated service delivery projects to examine opportunities as they might apply to community hubs.

Develop a provincial strategy for public properties

Action Items:

  • Assemble a comprehensive inventory of provincial and provincially supported public property, including those owned by the broader public sector (e.g., Community Health Centres, child care/early learning centres, libraries, elder person centres, affordable housing, schools, hospitals, colleges, universities, etc.).
  • Using this inventory, conduct analysis on opportunities for service delivery integration and co-location.
  • Change the disposition process for surplus public properties to review public needs and explore the feasibility of potential partnerships before a final decision is made.
  • Review the government mandate to require disposition of public properties at fair market value, including those owned by the broader public sector, and develop methodologies for conducting cost-benefit analysis of surplus properties that consider broader social and economic benefits to the communities.
  • Build a broader and more complete realty circulation list and ensure sufficient time to review surplus properties before disposition.
  • Develop measures to analyze the community use of provincially supported properties to better inform decision-making on surplus space.
  • Implement a short-term strategy for schools.

Remove barriers and create incentives

Action Items:

  • Continue to work with stakeholders to identify and find solutions to additional barriers that prevent the establishment of community hubs.
  • Simplify the capital approval process for community health agencies (e.g., Community Health Centres) and offer flexibility in design, funding and operating requirements to enable programming that reflects community needs.
  • Increase Local Health Integration Networks’ capital approval authority for community health projects.
  • Review the liability, security, access and property management issues to maximize use of school space by community partners.

Support integrated and longer-term local planning

Action Items:

  • Require integrated planning to ensure client-focused service delivery regardless of jurisdictional boundaries (provincial, municipal, school board, health and agency).
  • Working with the municipal sector and local stakeholders, explore opportunities to use provincial policy levers and legislation (e.g. Provincial Policy Statement, Growth Plan for the Greater Horseshoe, Growth Plan for Northern Ontario The Municipal Act, and the City of Toronto Act) to strengthen and better enable community hubs.
  • Explore how public buildings can be designed and built with greater consideration for multi-use, inter-generational and long-term requirements to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.

Ensure financially sustainable community hubs

Action Items:

  • Explore the use of innovative financing models for community hubs, including social enterprise, social finance (e.g., Social Impact Bonds), public/private partnerships, and Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP).
  • Revise the Infrastructure Ontario Loan Program to expand eligibility.
  • Leverage provincial programs (e.g., ServiceOntario and Employment Ontario) as ‘anchor tenants’ to support community hub establishment and long-term sustainability.
  • Review options to leverage municipal financial tools including business incubators, municipal capital facilities agreements and development charges, to support the creation of new community spaces.

Increase local capacity

Action Items:

  • Engage experts and local practitioners to develop a resource centre for service providers to support the establishment of community hubs and provide training for providers.
  • To support local planning activities, and in keeping with the Province’s Open Government initiative, make government data such as demographic, GIS mapping, service planning information and the surplus public properties inventory publicly available online.
  • Explore opportunities to support virtual community hubs.

Evaluate and monitor the outcomes

Action Item:

  • Working with the Treasury Board Secretariat’s new Centre of Excellence for Evidence-Based Decision Making, develop an outcomes-based evaluation and measurement structure.


This Strategic Framework and Action Plan represents a concrete action plan in expanding community hubs in Ontario. It reflects the consensus of stakeholders that community hubs contribute tremendous value to local residents, value that can be measured and demonstrated in both social and economic terms. It also reflects the variety and depth of stakeholder concerns and identifies possible solutions to many of the barriers that impede the development of community hubs. And finally, it reflects the concentrated effort at the Province, which recognizes the value of delivering services that benefit communities.

It is clear the Province has a crucial role to play in changing the policy and planning environment to facilitate the further development of community hubs. This Strategic Framework and Action Plan offers a way forward, and includes specific actions to provide leadership, remove barriers, build capacity and ensure the success of existing and future community hubs. Once reviewed by government, this Strategic Framework and Action Plan should become an initial road map to guide further planning and implementation of a ‘whole of government’ approach to support the evolution of community hubs across the province.