SHIFTING DISTRESS TO OPPORTUNITY
Opportunity Zones are low income census tracts nominated by governors and certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as economically distressed areas.
Investors can put capital to work financing new projects—including commercial real estate, industrial parks, start-up businesses, existing businesses, or infrastructure (such as broadband)—in exchange for certain federal capital gains tax advantages. There are currently more than 8,700 Opportunity Zones throughout the country.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
With a few exceptions, investors are relatively unlimited in what they can finance. And the potential pot is huge—over $6 trillion dollars in unrealized capital gains could flow toward these communities from both individual investors and companies.
Communities interested in attracting Opportunity Zone investments as part of their transition plan should start by creating a community “prospectus” for potential investors that aligns with the community’s vision for transition. For example, if you envision diversifying your economy to include more tourism, create a prospectus that will entice those wishing to invest in tourism-related businesses or infrastructure.
Just Transition Fund’s Take
Embedded in the US Tax Code, Since Opportunity Zones are likely to remain an option for community investment for some time and can be a valuable tool for drawing investment into redevelopment projects that create new jobs. However, to date, a majority of the investments have been in real estate. Critics caution that investors could use the program to dodge taxes and warn that the program can be used to produce higher-end apartments or industrial real estate, which are largely able to access capital already. To support transitioning communities, and avoid gentrification and the subsequent displacement of impacted residents, particularly communities of color, more transparency and guidelines are needed ensure these investments go toward businesses that will create new jobs for workers impacted by mine closings.