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COVID-19 threatens the future of community organizations in Calgary

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On Monday, the city council will consider allocating $ 6 million from its rainy day reserve fund to support community associations and social recreation groups.

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Madeline Smith

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May 08, 2020 • • May 9, 2020 • • Read for 4 minutes • • 5 comments David Barrett, Vice President of the Renfrew Community Association, was photographed in the association’s community playground on Thursday, May 7, 2020. Community associations in Calgary face potential ruin as all of their revenue streams are gone due to COVID-19. Gavin Young / Postmedia Gavin Young / Postmedia

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Community halls across Calgary have been vacant for nearly two months and some local associations are wondering if they can weather the financial blow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In spaces that typically have a lot of preschools, dance classes, and neighborhood events, practically everything is on pause – as is the cash flow that keeps the lights on.

Community halls or the land they sit on are owned by the city but are administered and maintained by voluntary community associations. According to the city, more than 180 social recreation groups and community associations operate nearly $ 1 billion in city assets.

COVID-19 has sent the group’s 2020 budget out the window, according to David Barrett, external vice president of the Renfrew Community Association.

The association estimated it would generate $ 60,000 in revenue for the year from hall rentals, but that number has now been zero since the building closed in March.


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Still, says Barrett, no one panic just yet. Nonprofits like community associations get cash from nonprofit games every 18 months, and the Renfrew Community Association ran their casino for the past year. The group also has a healthy reserve fund, and the group has been able to keep its individual employee on board as part of the federal government’s wage subsidy program.

But even on a drastically reduced budget, the club spends about $ 6,000 a month on the bills at its northeastern meetinghouse. There is no telling how long it will be without hope of revenue.

Large gatherings that would normally fill community halls – weddings, family reunions, birthday parties – are out of the question, and public health officials have warned that these could be among the last parts of normal life that are returning. Some community associations also operate ice rinks and sports facilities, and leisure centers and arenas are not allowed to reopen until Phase 3 of the province’s relaunch.

“I think this could be a make-or-break scenario for a lot of community organizations across town,” said Barrett. “Without any support, they run the risk of becoming insolvent, I’m sure of that.”

On Monday, the Calgary City Council will consider allocating $ 6 million from its Rainy Day Reserve Fund to support community associations and social recreation groups. This is one of several steps the city is aiming to take to help local workers and organizations struggling with COVID-19 restrictions.


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According to a city report, 20 percent of organizations in the city could fail by the end of the year if community associations and social recreation groups do not receive additional financial support for ongoing expenses.

David Barrett outside Renfrew meetinghouse on Thursday. David Barrett outside Renfrew meetinghouse on Thursday. Photo by Gavin Young / Postmedia

The situation is “dire,” says Leslie Evans, executive director of the Federation of Calgary Communities.

“Depending on what happens this year and next, we could have some pretty catastrophic failures if we don’t have this continued support,” she said.

The rescue package the city is considering is critical, Evans said, but she fears it won’t be enough if the crisis extends through 2021. In fact, groups operating larger community buildings face tens of thousands of dollars in essential operating costs every month after cutting back as much as possible.

She said most nonprofits have enough cash on hand to keep them going for at least three months, or even six months if they’re in good shape. She’s heard of some community groups who believe it could last even longer – maybe up to nine months.

Usually that would be more than enough to guide them through emergencies, but not with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

“If this goes beyond December, all of our groups will likely start waving flags and say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, we have big problems here,'” she said.

“It’s not just the little people who fail here. Nobody could be prepared for what would happen. That is almost unimaginable. “


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And if these volunteer groups run out of money, hundreds of millions of dollars in city assets could be forfeited.

“With each passing month, their ability to cover these non-negotiable costs decreases,” said Evans. “It’s a risk and it’s a taxpayer risk.”

Elise Bieche, president of the Highland Park Community Association, says her group numbers will stay stable through the fall, but they need to be able to get revenue streams going again. You should be scheduled for a casino this month, which it certainly won’t happen again now.

“If we can’t go back in September, I’ll be worried. I’ll be worried sick, ”she said.

In the meantime, her group is grappling with how to connect the community when their main meeting room – the hall – is locked.

The Highland Park Association has helped coordinate volunteers in their community to connect with neighbors and ensure people receive support amid COVID-19. The online reach is also increasing, but Bieche is concerned about people who may still fall through the cracks.

“We lost our seniors’ lunch,” she said. “We had 50 seniors who came for lunch every month. How can we continue to serve this community? “

In Renfrew, Barrett said community associations are leading the charge to ensure neighbors stay connected during a period of isolation.

Losing the groups trying to bind the city together would be a blow.

“It would be hard to come back.”


Twitter: @meksmith

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