Doubts surface with Over-the-Hill Initiative

As government prepares to offer tax concessions in over-the hill communities to spur economic development, there is an overarching concern from residents that gentrification will force them out.

Eyewitness News spoke with a number of residents on the Over-the-Hill Redevelopment project, who expressed that their main concern is the potential influx of the wealthy, which could possibly make it difficult to compete.

Proprietor Anthony Brown, who owns and operates a small convince store on Baillou Hill Road North said, offering tax concessions to over-the-hill communities could possibly make it even more difficult for their businesses to survive.

“One of our biggest challenges is access to capital, we are struggling right now … what you are going to see happening is a lot of wealth people will come in, real estate will sky rocket and because many people are poor they will probably sell out and what do you have left?”

His sentiments were echoed by Juanita Davis who said she is also concerned about the potential of over- the- hill communities losing their historical value.

“I think the plan is a good idea and they need to fix it up, but I think they should pay attention to preserving some of the historical attributes of the area. Key areas where Bahamians fought for civil liberties… it started right here in over-the-hill,” Davis said while she also expressed concern about being squeezed out of the area.

“I operate a small business in a building that I own and when you have the rich and wealthy coming in, what will happen to us? The tax concessions will be good, we can probably expand and hire more people but, will it be people from here? Who is this program really going to help?”

Davis noted that these communities are predominantly populated by the elderly and young people with little education.

“When you talk about redevelopment, you have to start from the bottom we have dozens of young people barely in school, barely making the grades. They are not interested in real work and the few that are, are trying to get out.”

While she said she sees value in the program, Davis said, she believes it needs some “fine tuning”.

“Anything to encourage business development and growth, if it really benefits the residents – the people that live in this area – then I’m all for it,” she said. “If it’s going to benefit new people to come and take over, then no, we don’t want it.”

“It’s amazing the government now wants to offer help when they are the ones that mainly contributed to the problem,” Brown said as highlighted the fact that economic hardship in the area began after the 2008 recession, when government made the thoroughfare a one-way street.

“When this was a two-way street, business was booming. You have shops that have been in this area for years that survived hard times and took care of families and helped send their children to school, and the road change really hurt more than it helped.”

Other business owners, who did not wish to be identified, shared similar concerns and called on government to continue an open dialogue as it looks to roll out the program.

The economic resurgence initiative is built on six pillars that include: social empowerment (through the implementation of anti-poverty policies and practices); economic empowerment (through the creation of jobs and ownership opportunities for Bahamians), and rejuvenation, improving the physical surroundings, including upgrades to historical and cultural assets.

Other initiatives include the Use of Smart, Green Technology; and the Empowerment of the Youth and Elderly by investing in social interventions. Tax concessions are expected to last for a period of five years.

A press conference is scheduled for today at 2:00 p.m to address concerns about the programme.