Project Description

iIn 2021, the City of Vancouver DTES Planning Team engaged a consultant team convened by Hessey to address access to affordable goods, services, and inclusive spaces in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) through the creation of an innovative funding program.  As acknowledged by the Downtown Eastside Plan Three Year Summary of Implementation (2017-2019), many businesses, organizations, and other key social services important to low-income community members find themselves increasingly priced out due to rising rents and property costs, and high commercial vacancy rates – among other regulatory barriers such as zoning bylaws and steep capital upgrade requirements.  

Hessey led the proposal stage of this project and assembled a team of local area community economic development (CED) stakeholders and practitioners to ensure effective delivery.  Hessey convened and collaborated with Community Impact Real Estate (CIRES) and Exchange Inner City (EIC) to develop Activate DTES, a pilot funding project for the City of Vancouver Special Enterprise Program (SEP). Activate DTES addresses the widening gap between demand and availability for affordable goods and services in the DTES, and reduced economic opportunities faced by community-serving organizations by supporting their tenure in vacant and/or underutilized commercial retail units. 

About the City of Vancouver Special Enterprise Program (SEP) 

The City of Vancouver Special Enterprise Program aims to preserve and revitalize the cultural diversity, long-term viability, and economic opportunity for heritage businesses, social enterprises (SEs), non-profit organizations (NPOs), and co-operatives located in the DTES. The program has three areas of focus: 1) Affordable Spaces; 2) Business Supports; and 3) Community-serving Retail. Activate DTES falls under the Affordable Spaces component.  

Project Goal: Create an effective funding program to incentivize private investment and support the tenant improvement of currently vacant storefronts in the project area.  The funding program is designed to build economic equity and resilience in the DTES by increasing the number of upgraded storefront commercial retail units available to community serving organizations over the medium term.  These street-facing commercial spaces are intended as a community benefit to current and future locally-owned, community-serving small and medium enterprises (SMEs) within the neighbourhood – including SEs, NPOs, cultural and heritage or legacy businesses, and community-serving for-profit businesses with a focus on those owned by equity-deserving individuals. 

The intended outcome of Activate DTES is a small number of funded project pilots occupied by community-serving organizations in 2022. These pilots will demonstrate proof-of-concept that includes commitments from building owners in addition to the tenants to invest in building upgrades leading to legal occupancies in the project area.  Activate DTES is structured into two phases: 

  • Phase 1: Pilot Project Development 
  • Phase 2: Pilot Delivery 

Phase 1 has been completed, and in this phase, the team worked to develop the funding program in detail in harmony with City of Vancouver current and emergent policy and initiatives. The team identified potential sites and participating organizations and engaged them in a stakeholder engagement process to assess their interest in being active in the project area, identify possible equity-building opportunities, understand space and operating requirements, and determine the best funding delivery path and implementation strategy. Working with the tenant and building owner, each detailed pilot proposal included a pilot definition and mobilization (baseline information concerning target outcomes, governance, and working scope), an analysis of feasibility, budget, and delivery plan.  


Steve Johnston, Community Impact Real Estate (CIRES)
Michelle Lackie, Exchange Inner City (EIC) 
DTES Community Planning Team, City of Vancouver
Meg O’Shea, Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) 


Completed 2021 

Project Type 

Research + Proposal
Project Management