A Return to OZ

The opportunity zone program continues to thrive despite skepticism and the pandemic.

By Sarah Hoban | Fall 2020

It’s only been three years since opportunity zones were created to encourage investment in low-income communities across the country. The program has been welcomed and used by many, though some look on with skepticism. Now, opportunity zones face new challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Qualified Opportunity Zones program had bipartisan backing as a part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. State governors nominate low-income census tracts to be opportunity zones, which are then certified by the Treasury Department. Investment comes through opportunity funds, a vehicle developed for the program. Funds need to invest at least 90 percent of their capital in OZ assets, which are classified broadly and include not only commercial and affordable residential real estate, but also investment in startups and local entrepreneurship, historic renovation, industrial developments, and job creation initiatives. The program’s tax incentives are meant to encourage long-term investment. Investors get numerous benefits: a temporary tax deferral for capital gains invested in an opportunity fund; a step-up in basis (the basis of the original investment is increased by 10 percent if the investment in the fund is held by the taxpayer for at least five years and by 15 percent if held for at least seven years); and a permanent exclusion of any future capital gain income realized upon the sale or exchange of an investment in a fund if the investment is held for at least 10 years. Still, the program has generated controversy, with critics noting examples of questionable designation of tracts and billionaires using the tax break for projects such as luxury condos or other high-end uses that provide little benefit to struggling neighborhoods. Click to read more at www.ccim.com.