A couple walking down a street lined with shops

Special Enterprise Program

The Downtown Eastside is experiencing a broad range of challenges that impact the viability of small business and non-profit organizations.

These challenges include:

  • Increased vacancy
  • Affordability
  • Permitting and regulations
  • Maintenance
  • Safety
  • Quality of public space
  • Access to local employment

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated these challenges and reinforced the need for coordinated action to support the local economy.

The Special Enterprise Program (SEP), approved by Council in January 2021, is a 5 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 and spaces for low-income residents

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.

Chinatown transformation

The Chinatown revitalization plan will preserve Chinatown's unique heritage while bringing new life to the community.

Contact a planner

If you want to learn more about this program, send us an email:



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