Inclusive Impact Investing – Opportunity Zones
Summary + Problem Statement
When we started this year, we took on what we thought would be a small, time-limited project on Opportunity Zones. In the past 9 months, this conversation has become the hot topic for investors, real estate developers, lawyers, tax accountants, and many other stakeholders.
When we began this project in early 2018, we took on what we thought would be a small, time-limited project on Opportunity Zones. In the past 19 months, we have seen this policy spur a new market–funds, jobs, conferences, radio advertisements, and more, all newly created to take advantage of this capital gains incentive. Not since 2000 (with the New Markets Tax Credit legislation) has a tax policy so dramatically captured the attention of investors and community development practitioners as has Opportunity Zones. However, unlike past community investment policies, impact has been on the sidelines. The final version of the Opportunity Zone legislation failed to include any impact reporting requirements or reference to impact objectives.
The Beeck Center has been working with investors, community intermediaries, and foundations to ensure impact is not only at the center of the national conversation on Opportunity Zones, but also a key outcome of Opportunity Zone deals. The Beeck Center is committed to a variety of solutions to drive impact in Opportunity Zones.
- In June 2019, the Beeck Center launched the Opportunity Zone Investor Council with 15 first-mover investors, developers, and fund managers to drive impact in Opportunity Zones across the nation, cross-pollinate best practices, and talk about and test new models for community investment.
- In partnership with US Impact Investing Alliance and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in February 2019, we launched the Guiding Principles and Reporting Framework for Opportunity Zones. These guiding principles include: community engagement, equity, transparency, measurement, and outcomes. Government agencies, fund managers, philanthropy, and more are using these guiding principles and framework to drive how they are thinking about impact in Opportunity Zones.
- During the Summer and Fall 2018, we co-hosted a variety of training and working sessions with real estate developers, local communities, policymakers, and investors. These sessions guided much of the metrics and measurement in the Opportunity Zone Impact Framework.
- In March 2018, we developed a series of recommendations for Governors to guide their zone designation selection process.
Since our work with opportunity zones began, our team has spoken at a variety of conferences and events to raise awareness around the value of impact in Opportunity Zones, including: Sorenson Impact Center’s Winter Innovation Summit, Harvard Real Estate Weekend, The Funder’s Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Any Size Deal Events, Council on Foundations and more. We have also continued to convene an Opportunity Zone monthly working group call, with over 50 organizations spanning the nation, initially seeded with funding from the Kresge Foundation. We feature guest speaker leaders in the field and facilitate discussions on best practices and challenges from the field.
We are optimistic about the possibilities that Opportunity Zones offer to drive capital into underinvested communities and address economic inequities these communities face. This legislation has the potential to have investors engage with communities in new ways and to result in new types of partnerships and models for community development.
At the same time, this policy is a capital gains tax incentive. Without impact as a required portion of the legislation, good actors are not guaranteed. State and local government, philanthropy, and investors must step up to call for impact players in Opportunity Zones. Through this collective effort, our hope is that the good actors will outweigh the bad.
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