In Pennsylvania, early signs suggest that the program is not living up to the claims of transformative change and is unlikely to be a cure for the communities most in need of a boost. Instead, investors appear to mostly prefer areas already experiencing redevelopment, where the payday will be far greater.
Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a new initiative to promote the creation and expansion of high-quality public charter schools in Opportunity Zones across the United States. Currently, more than 70% of Opportunity Zones do not have a public charter school option available to students.
The Opportunity Zones website includes an interactive map of the 8,764 Opportunity Zones nationwide; links to the Opportunity Zone-focused website of each State and Territory; comprehensive Federal tools and resources that support Opportunity Zone residents and complement Qualified Opportunity Fund investments; and the completed action items of each White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council member agency.
After reviewing the latest guidance issued on the Opportunity Zone program, it’s clear that the IRS is taking serious steps to help provide the clarity the investment community has been seeking. While there are still a few unanswered questions, we are hearing from many investors that they have a better understanding of the program and its benefits.
If funds created to finance real estate and businesses in Opportunity Zones ultimately produce healthy community revitalization, it will be directly related to community members’ engagement in expressing their power through unique partnership and dealings with investors.
Gentrification, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is “the transformation of neighborhoods from low value to high value.” So, does that mean a low-value neighborhood is being invaded by high-value development? Well, hold on a minute -- don't we need change and investment in the low-value areas? Isn't that what opportunity zones are all about?
Scott Turner, executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, called charges that the Opportunity Zone program included in the 2017 tax cut is “just for the rich” a “lie” and said the program is a nonpartisan effort to promote investment and redevelop in some of the nation’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods.
When communities fall on hard economic times, they tend to grow increasingly neglected. After all, what real estate investor wants to pump money into a depressed neighborhood? It's this very issue that prompted the creation of opportunity zones. IRS opportunity zones are those designated as economically distressed. Investors who put money into opportunity zones get to reap tax benefits in exchange for putting capital into areas that need it. Everybody wins.
Cities across the United States face a host of challenges: job creation, building scalable enterprises, affordable housing, sustainability in the age of climate change, equity and inclusion. These priorities are as diverse as they are entangled. No single individual - not the most brilliant inventor or revolutionary leader - can tackle any of these challenges alone. To make meaningful progress, we must collaborate on cross-institutional and cross-interest solutions.
Opportunity Zone funding is a federal program created to drive economic development in “distressed” areas across the United States, including in DC. The program has been received with both criticism and excitement, but something’s been missing from the conversation: The potential to use this money for clean energy and green infrastructure projects that benefit both the planet and the people living in these communities.