03/05/2014 09:08 EST | Updated 05/05/2014 05:59 EDT

Downtown Eastside businesses concerned about Local Area Plan

Businesses in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside say they are worried they will struggle trying to cater to the neighbourhood's low-income residents, as encouraged by the city.

Last week, the City of Vancouver unveiled its new $1 billion plan to revitalize the Downtown Eastside over the next 30 years. Included in the plan are several measures that businesses can take to improve inclusion and a sense of security for the Downtown Eastside's 18,500 mostly low-income residents.

WesRegan, executive director of the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association, says the plan is a "step forward" in articulating the culture of social innovation that has been brewing in the Downtown Eastside for years. However, he says there are still barriers prohibiting business from being socially inclusive.

"The plan puts a lot of focus on incentivising social enterprise and incentivising social impact businesses, and that's good. I'm all for that. At the same time, we don't want to create a punitive environment for entrepreneurs who are just opening businesses," said Regan. 

"There's some concerns from a few people in the area that the social impact assessment and the public benefits strategy kind of create that sort of discriminatory environment where social enterprises, or social impact businesses, are being given a lot of credence and the regular or small businesses, which are the vast majority in the area, are not really given."

Regan said businesses will need support in becoming more inclusive.

"If we're going to do this, we're going to need resources from multiple levels of government to help us in making these sort of transitions, and not to expect that the business community at large is going to be able to reconfigure itself to incorporate these types of values," he said.

"To have a billion dollars allocated in the plan and not a single cent allocated to community economic development and tackling this issue of what the business mix looks like, to me is a bit of an oversight."

Economic strategy still to be revealed

Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer says those details could be unveiled in a separate economic strategy for the neighbourhood.

"The Downtown Eastside local economy is part of the planning process," said Reimer.

"The intention of the city, per the direction of the [Local Area Plan] if it's passed by council, [is] to develop a local economic strategy as well as mechanisms by which the city can support businesses."

The Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan is scheduled to go before council next week.