SHELTERFORCE: Pushing Opportunity Zones to Fulfill Their Promise

Press Coverage: 3, May 2019
LA River

Photo: Downtowngal [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Densely populated cities—many of which already face displacement pressures and offer limited opportunities for low-income communities—are bracing themselves. An estimated $7 trillion in investments are anticipated to flow to low-income census tracts through Opportunity Zone tax incentives. Created as a part of The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, Opportunity Zones were designed to attract private capital to areas that have long been neglected by business, large and small.


Recently, PolicyLink staff attended the Opportunity Zone Investor Summit hosted by Accelerator for America. The summit showcased a number of groups who are working to foster connections between cities, stakeholders, developers, and investors to advance inclusive Opportunity Zone projects. While most speakers expressed excitement for the potential of Opportunity Zones, participants acknowledged that the success of this tool will require that all stakeholders focus on the interests of the people whom this legislation was intended to serve—particularly low-income residents and people of color.


PolicyLink has developed some guiding principles that city and state officials, equity advocates, philanthropic leaders, investors, and developers can use to ensure that investments are equitable and help prevent displacement. Here are some key takeaways for urban policymakers:

Engage community members throughout the development process. “Opportunity Zones are going to work. The question is who they are going to work for?” Maurice Jones, president & CEO of LISC said. Extensive community engagement and resident participation is necessary to ensure that Opportunity Zones move from transactional to transformational. Local leaders must engage community in every aspect of the process, including planning, policy development, investment, construction, operation, and ownership. During an Accelerator for America meeting in Birmingham last month, Birmingham Mayor Woodfin announced the city’s Opportunity Zone investment and capacity building framework, called the Inclusive Growth Initiative Partnership, which plans to incorporate a people-centered focus by training 500 residents on what Opportunity Zones are and how they work.


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