How to Ensure Opportunity Zone Investments Strengthen Local Communities

Stanford Social Innovation Review

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By Kate Gasparro & David Weinberger

September 6, 2019

For two years, investors and neighborhood leaders in cities around the country have responded to economic Opportunity Zones (OZs) with hope and hesitation. The policy, part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, provides tax incentives for long-term investmentsin low-income census tracts. These incentives are meant to help disinvested neighborhoods, hungry for economic growth, attract new financial opportunities.Heeding this call, nearly 90 OZ funds have dedicated more than $2 billion for investments in OZs.

The interest has highlighted the policy’s pitfalls. While investors set the terms of local investments in business, real estate, and infrastructure projects, they are not required to respond to community needs. Place-based investments, like those incentivized by the OZ policy, are increasingly vulnerable to local resistance, especially when investors do not attempt to understand the local context of their investments. This dynamic recently played out in Amazon’s plans for a second headquarters. Failure to solicit meaningful local input early in their planning process led to community opposition that ultimately thwarted their plans to build in New York City.

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