Over-the-Hill initiative heads express gentrification concerns

Over-the-Hill initiative heads express gentrification concerns
Dr Nicola Virgil-Rolle

With concerns mounting in the ‘over-the-hill’ community that the government’s new Over-the-Hill Redevelopment Project will force persons of their businesses and homes once tax concessions are introduced, project head Dr. Nicole Virgil-Rolle said yesterday, she is also worried about gentrification.

At a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister on Monday, Dr. Virgil-Rolle admitted that there is really no way, initially, to prevent small businesses from being ‘gobbled up by larger ones’.

She said, however, there are safe guards in place.

“Well I think that it is very important as the trade certificates are issued that we pay attention to trends and see if that will actually occur,” Dr. Virgil-Rolle said.

“So, we have built in a process whereby to benefit from the exemptions. It’s not just a blanket thing or you are in the area and so you get exemptions. You apply to the Ministry of Finance for the trade certifications and then that will give us the information about whether changes are happening so we can monitor trends.

“Now I can say for gentrification, in terms of housing as well, we have also had that as an issue. We wondered about that and so from our research on these zones, we found that one of the best approaches to use is to make sure we always focus on ensuring there is good affordable housing available and upgrading of existing housing, so that people have options to always have affordable units available.

“The safeguards are there in terms of internal trend monitoring to ensure you can spot and detect trends like that so there is a built in stop gap measure.”

Centerville Member of Parliament (MP) Reece Chipman said, he will be closely monitoring the project to ensure that no one takes advantage of the tax breaks.

“I think gentrification is something that is a concern even on a national level in terms of abuse of tax breaks and concessions,” Chipman said.

“What is very important is a monitoring programme. And so, part of the cost of the overall programme will be to have a monitoring aspect to it, where you are monitoring trends to see if the track we expected we are still on, and if we have to make adjustments, we make those along the way. We will be monitoring it closely to ensure there is no abuse of our agenda in terms of the over the hill projects.”

Last week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that persons interested in opening businesses ‘over-the-hill’ will be eligible for a variety of tax breaks, including exemption from customs duties, real property and stamp taxes, as well as a business license fee waiver.

Eyewitness News spoke with a number of ‘over-the-hill’ residents last week, 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.

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 programme.