Introducing Opportunity Zones

The Opportunity Zones program is a brand new federal program aimed at encouraging long-term, private capital investment in America’s low-income urban and rural communities with new tax incentives. Smart Growth America is working to ensure that it helps to restore and revitalize America’s lowest-income communities in a just and equitable way.

Created by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tim Scott (R-SC), the Opportunity Zones program was included in the tax reform package approved by Congress last December (The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act).

It’s intended to encourage long-term, committed investment—like new attainable housing, retail development, or new jobs—in distressed neighborhoods with concentrated poverty and a lack of opportunities.

How? There are many more details worth outlining, but here are the broad strokes: There are trillions of dollars in private capital essentially sitting on the sidelines—specifically, the untapped capital gains within mutual funds or the stock market. (Capital gains are the increases in value of an investment or real estate asset over the original purchase price. The gains are realized when the asset is sold, but are subject to capital gains taxes.)

By providing strong tax incentives, this new federal program seeks to encourage investors to invest some of that capital to revitalize struggling neighborhoods and main streets. Investors can make long-term investments into new Opportunity Funds—which provide the equity for businesses or real estate projects within these newly designated Opportunity Zones—and receive a tax break after ten years.

Want a deep dive on Opportunity Zones?

Watch this webinar from LOCUS—our coalition of responsible real estate investors—that provides a comprehensive background and expert analysis of the Opportunity Zones program. The webinar shed light on several of these unanswered questions; it addressed the Opportunity Zones program’s economic context and incentives, as well as the policies and practices needed by stakeholders to achieve equitable development outcomes in America’s most distressed communities.

Watch the webinar >>

Smart Growth America and LOCUS are fully committed to guiding the real-world implementation and execution of the Opportunity Zones program to ensure this new program delivers on its promise to bring opportunity to lower-income neighborhoods.

Overall, the Opportunity Zones program must contribute to community revitalization efforts without displacing the businesses and residents who live or work in these areas. Any new private sector investment should contribute to equitable economic development, provide greater access to jobs, and improve the quality of life for existing and low-income residents alike.

Where are these new zones?

Track them with our new LOCUS Opportunity Zone Navigator.

Our LOCUS program created the LOCUS Opportunity Zone Navigator, an easy-to-use, interactive tool that allows you to overlay all 7,927 Opportunity Zone census tracts with transit, environmental, economic, population, and affordability data. Along with the map, LOCUS is providing additional resources and recommendations that can help answer the following questions:

  • What are Opportunity Zones and where are they?
  • What’s in them and who calls them home?
  • What is an Opportunity Fund and how can you create one?
  • What type of investment and revitalization opportunities are available in each Opportunity Zone based on their economic, environmental, demographic, housing, and infrastructure characteristics?
  • What can and should cities, philanthropies, advocates, and the private sector be doing right now?

Stay tuned for more from SGA and our LOCUS program in the days to come, and don’t miss the LOCUS Opportunity Zone Navigator >>

Economic development