President of the League of Haitian Pastors Pastor Jean Paul Charles said he has asked the government to give shantytown residents first preference to purchase land in those communities.
Shantytown residents have until August 10 to leave those communities. Once the deadline passes, those communities are expected to be demolished.
Pastor Charles said the league has visited the 11 shantytowns on New Providence identified by the government on a weekly basis to meet with residents and hear their concerns.
“When we visit them it is not an easy approach,” he said when called for comment.
“Some of them would get angry. Some of them would say that the League of Haitian Pastors is there with the government to kick them out. Also, you would have some residents who say, ‘Okay, we have to comply. We have to leave.’”
Asked about those residents who intend to take the government to court, Charles said, “I know people said they would take the government to court but I don’t think that will make any difference. I think the government would do what it is willing to do.”
Charles said he hopes the “the government gives the Haitians who live in those places the first preference if they want to buy that piece of land and to rebuild it, up to code, properly”.
“We asked the government and they said they would look into that and get back to us,” he said.
Haitian Embassy First Assistant Secretary Karl Henri Chatelier reportedly made a similar suggestion on ZNS.
He said that leasing the land is another option the Bahamian government can undertake instead of evicting those residents.
But the Ministry of Foreign Affair said his comments were out of line and that he had interfered in the domestic affairs of The Bahamas.
Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, who heads the Shantytown Action Task Force (SATF), said the government must move ahead with its policy “for the residents of the shantytowns, so that they can live a better life”.
He explained that many of the communities pose adverse social and environmental conditions for residents and the surrounding areas.
The SATF has served residents of 11 shantytowns in New Providence with final notices.
Charles said the exercise is a painful process for the residents, but that the church has been doing its best to help them find new accommodation.
“We have formed a subcommittee where we have pastors to go to different areas to talk to them,” he said.
“As you know, it’s complicated since we don’t have that much resources. What we did, we got in touch with some private stakeholders who are willing to assist.
“We in the pastors league are trying to do as much as we can to assist them to move. But you know, the problem is so big we need more than that.”
Vice President of the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) Anglican Archdeacon James Palacious urged Bahamians to lend aid to shantytown residents who struggle to find new homes.
Another issue Charles claims he has seen is an increase in rent prices for Haitians.
“The landlords are not as easy as they used to be,” he said.
“People are saying that if a Bahamian couple [goes to a landlord] for a two bedroom to rent they ask them for $700, but when they see you as a Haitian they say $1000. They don’t want to rent it to Haitians.”
Charles said the league has told several landlords that they would pay the first and last month rent for a couple, but many worried that the “Haitians can’t pay rent beyond the first month”.
Charles said the league does not want to see residents in the shantytown live in poor conditions.
“We don’t want that,” he said.
“We want the Haitian people to live decently. It is painful now because it has been going on for so long.”
According to the government’s New Providence Shantytown Assessment Report, 2018, 1,410 people resided in those communities at the time a survey was taken.
In June, Foulkes said about 50 percent of those residents remain.
Many residents have expressed dismay over the process with some lamenting that they have nowhere to go.