Opportunity Zones - Guiding Principles and Perspectives

As the U.S. Treasury Department begins the process of implementing Opportunity Zones under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, PolicyLink offers recommendations for ensuring this new initiative embodies equity and full inclusion for the most vulnerable. We seek to ensure that Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds ultimately benefit low-income community residents and small businesses within the zones, and protect the interests of those most susceptible to displacement pressures that too often result from private investment. We see Opportunity Zones as a chance to target large amounts of private capital for the long-term needs of struggling families and communities. And while doing so, those investments must be integrated carefully into the community in ways that improve the lives of the 100 million people in America who are economically insecure (living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level), approximately 19 million of them live in the census tracts designated as Opportunity Zones.

If invested in the right type of projects, this new capital infusion could spark catalytic development that creates economic opportunity and improves neighborhood quality of life. On the other hand, if the resources are deployed without a focus on improving opportunities and outcomes for the residents living inside the zones, the investments could lead to displacement of low-income people and communities of color in addition to the loss of community assets and land.

Equity advocates, investors, developers, city and state officials, philanthropy, and federal officials should take a proactive approach to guide Opportunity Zone investments toward these outcomes:

  1. Equitable growth. Opportunity Zones should leverage tax incentives to create good jobs, increase economic security and mobility, and eliminate the racial wealth gap. Projects in the zones should result in jobs that provide wages that support a dignified standard of living, full benefits and workers rights, and safe and healthy working conditions. Developers and investors of color should have access to contracting opportunities in the zones.

  2. Development without displacement. In addition to bringing economic opportunity and vitality to disinvested communities, development in Opportunity Zones should foster greater housing affordability and security for families most at risk of displacement, including low-income households and households of color.

  3. Healthy communities of opportunity. Investments should drive equitable growth and prosperity for current low-income residents and communities of color within the zones.  Projects should increase services available to vulnerable populations such as affordable transportation options, health-care facilities, healthy food retail, and quality education services.

View action steps for guiding Opportunity Zone investments, organized by several sectors – equity advocates, investors, developers, city and state officials, philanthropy, and federal officials 

What You Can Do:

Also TAKE ACTION and send your governor or the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury a letter to express why your organization advocates for opportunity zones and funds to benefit low-income community residents.