Burt allays fears about ‘gentrification’

  • Equal opportunity: David Burt, the Premier (File photograph)

    Equal opportunity: David Burt, the Premier (File photograph)

  • Leah Scott, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (File photograph)

    Leah Scott, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (File photograph)

The Premier dismissed fears that some of Bermuda’s cultural hotspots could become gentrified as MPs debated a Bill designed to boost the economy.

David Burt told the House of Assembly on Friday: “We can have economic growth and economic development that looks like and reflects the culture we want to have.”

It came after MPs on both sides questioned whether the Bill could have unintended consequences for the island’s economic empowerment zones in North East Hamilton, Somerset and St George’s.

The Premier told legislators that the Economic Development Amendment Act 2019 aims to stimulate growth “by widening the scope of potential investment in approved residential schemes”.

He explained: “Economic empowerment zones are designated geographical areas where special programmes are implemented to relieve hardship or economic disadvantage, or to assist disadvantaged persons to achieve equal opportunity.”

Mr Burt added that efforts to close the gaps of inequity focused on striking a balance between economic, social, physical and community environments, including financial equality, access to services and good quality of life.

The Bill provides for amendments to the Economic Development Act 1968, the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 and the Companies Act 1981.

Among its measures is a provision for local and exempted companies with a physical presence on the island — with the Minister of Finance’s consent — to acquire or hold residential valuation units in approved schemes for no longer than 131 years through lease or tenancy agreements.

Changes to the immigration Act would allow non-Bermudians and other “restricted persons” set out in the Act to buy residential units in an approved scheme “without restriction”, which is applied at present to freehold property, condominiums, tourist accommodation and rental homes.

The amendments would allow the minister responsible for economic development to approve a scheme for economic development in any part of Bermuda, including the EEZs, subject to certain criteria. That approval would be published in the Government’s Official Gazette.

Leah Scott, the deputy Opposition leader, said the One Bermuda Alliance supported the Bill.

She recognised the need for economic stimulus, but was worried the legislation had the potential “to be a very slippery slope”.

Ms Scott relayed a story about gentrification, which she described as “the nice word for the exodus of blacks and the influx of whites”, in the Shaw neighbourhood of Washington, where she said the black proportion of the population had dropped from 78 per cent to 44 per cent.

She explained that go-go music played by a shop owner for years was silenced after a complaint from a resident in a high-rise luxury development, but a citywide campaign meant that the decision by the store’s head office was overturned a month later.

Ms Scott said: “He’s turned back on his music and he has continued to be the institution and hub of the Shaw.

“My point is that, while this is a good intention, we have to be careful about what we are doing in preserving the culture of our community.”

She added that gentrification caused displacement, which can result from reinvestment in the neighbourhood.

The MP said: “While I understand the need for economic stimulus and the EE zones, and I’m fully supportive of that, I just encourage that we be aware of the challenges that we may face and, again, the law of unintended consequences.”

Rolfe Commissiong, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, welcomed Ms Scott’s comments. He claimed the North East Hamilton area, or the back of town, “was analogous to being our Harlem” from about the turn of the 20th century up until the 1970s.

Mr Commissiong said there was a “concentration of black businesses, of all types” and culture was prevalent.

He added: “On Court Street and the surrounding side streets, that is where it became almost like the cultural and business centre of black life, without overstating it.”

Mr Commissiong added: “Is the threat of gentrification one that we should take seriously? I contend it is.

“However, I am going to place my confidence in what the Government’s trying to achieve here.”

Supporting the legislation, he said that it would be important to make sure that “the stakeholders of these communities, who will be overwhelmingly black, are going to be able to be first in line to benefit”.

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Published Sep 30, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 30, 2019 at 7:25 am)

Burt allays fears about ‘gentrification’

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