A couple walking down a street lined with shops

Special Enterprise Program

The Special Enterprise Program (SEP), approved by Council in January 2021, is a five year pilot that aims to preserve and strengthen the cultural diversity, long-term viability, and economic opportunity of heritage businesses, social enterprises, and non-profit organizations in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside. 

The purpose of this program

  • Attract and prevent the displacement of heritage and community-serving businesses, cultural organizations, non-profit organizations, and social enterprises in the Downtown Eastside
  • Enhance the capacity of the small business sector to adapt to the current business environment and improve operations
  • Assist property owners (non-profit or for-profit with a social purpose) in activating their vacant spaces with businesses or other activities that align with permitted uses, current policies, and respond to community needs.

Key program outcomes

  • Reduced vacant storefronts
  • Increased community-serving economic activity
  • Secured affordable tenure to local community-serving organizations and businesses
  • Increased life-safety of local building stock
  • Preservation of cultural assets
  • Retention and long-term sustainment of heritage businesses
  • Increased access to employment  for low-income residents
  • Increased access to social and cultural places & spaces for low-income residents

Program components

We are working with community partners and a staff technical team (led by the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Planning group) to implement the three strategic components with the assistance of community partners (“implementers”):

Components Implementer Description
Capacity building Vancouver Chinatown Foundation Provision of supports to build the resilience and capacity of small businesses, non-profits, and social enterprises in Chinatown.
Affordable spaces Community Impact Real Estate Society Activation of vacant and under-utilized spaces in the Downtown Eastside and Oppenheimer District to support small community-serving activities, cultural organizations, non-profits, and social enterprises.
Community-serving business in Chinese Benevolent Society buildings Strathcona Business Improvement Association Curation and tenanting of affordable spaces to enable community-serving retail in Chinese Society buildings.


Related plans and strategies

Downtown Eastside Plan

The Downtown Eastside Plan provides a vision, policies, and strategies for the Downtown Eastside that focus on ways to improve the lives of low-income DTES residents and community members.

Community Economic Development Strategy

We are co-creating a Community Economic Development Strategy with Downtown Eastside communities to help meet the goals of the DTES Plan.

Contact a planner

Do you have questions about this program? Send us an email:


Get updates

* Indicates required fields