|By: Ben Carson
Special to The News-Press
August 12, 2020
Over the last three years President Trump and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have been working hard to bring economic prosperity and affordable housing to America’s forgotten neighborhoods. No program has generated more success towards these efforts than the President’s Opportunity Zone Initiative.
In 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which established Opportunity Zones to incentivize long-term investments in low-income communities nationwide. These incentives offer capital gains tax relief to investors for new investment in designated Opportunity Zones.
Since that momentous day, Opportunity Zones have driven over $75 billion in new investments. These new investments will lift approximately one million Americans from poverty, decreasing the poverty rate in Opportunity Zones by 11 percent. For the 8% of Floridians living in the state’s 427 Opportunity Zones — including 3 right here in Fort Myers — this program has made economic prosperity a reality.
This week, I will visit several local Opportunity Zone projects, including the Hope VI Community. This community highlights the results of a $20 million Housing and Urban Development grant that has leveraged $60 million in private equity.
Incentivizing investment in low-income communities fosters economic revitalization, job creation, and promotes sustainable economic growth across the Nation. The Hope VI Community — and Opportunity Zone program as a whole — serve as testaments to the power of the private sector, emboldened by efforts from local leaders, to ensure tangible, lasting change.
During my visit, I will also tour Southward Village and East Pointe Place. Together, these communities plan to house low-income families, seniors, members of the workforce, and market-rate housing. Each of these communities epitomize the affordable, mixed-use developments that inspired Opportunity Zones from the start.
Investing in an Opportunity Zone is not a singular act. The program was designed to hold funds in low-income communities over a long period of time. To reap the program’s full benefits, investors must hold their investment for 10 years. This creates a decades-long partnership between investors and the communities they serve.
The White House is equally committed to guaranteeing the program’s long-term success. In 2018, President Trump signed an Executive Order establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, which I have the privilege to chair. The Council is engaging all levels of government to identify best practices and assist leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs in using the Opportunity Zone incentive to revitalize low-income communities.
To date, the Council has completed over 300 action items to target, streamline, and coordinate more resources to Opportunity Zones to help spur economic development, entrepreneurship, safe neighborhood, and workforce training. These actions include a $489 million investment from the Department of Commerce in over 360 Opportunity Zone projects and $1.2 billion from the Department of Transportation to build new infrastructure and spur economic development. My own department, Housing and Urban Development, added preference points to their competitive grants for projects in Opportunity Zones.
I can think of no better place to see the fruits of these labors than the great state of Florida. I am encouraged by the force of positive change happening here in Fort Myers as a result of the Opportunity Zones initiative. I thank Mayor Randy Henderson and the local leadership for their determined partnership in ensuring economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.
Ben Carson is the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.