By: Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr.
As Ronald Reagan foretold a generation ago, it is morning again in America. Today’s booming economy, under President Donald J. Trump, stands in stark contrast to the stagnation and volatility Americans endured over the past decade.
It is one of our Nation’s bedrock beliefs that America is the Land of Opportunity. Every street in every city, every stretch along every country road, should indeed be a zone where opportunity calls home.
In pursuit of that bold ideal, Opportunity Zones were created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to stimulate economic development and job creation, by incentivizing long-term investments in low-income neighborhoods.
Few programs in modern American history have the potential to touch the lives of so many people as powerfully as Opportunity Zones, which are now home to approximately 31.3 million Americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia — or roughly 10% of the country. An additional 3.7 million people reside in Opportunity Zones in five U.S. territories.
As a doctor, I know all too well medication often involves a trade-off between solutions that are fast-acting and those that are long-lasting. One of the most commendable features of Opportunity Zones’ intelligent design is that they achieve the best of both worlds.
The fast-acting impact of Opportunity Zones is evident from the fact that we have already heard positive reports from city officials that anticipated investments in Opportunity Zones have helped preserve or attract economic development into their localities. Further, data from Zillow shows the negative growth rate of property sales prices in selected vulnerable communities, prior to the Trump tax cuts, flipped to a positive growth rate of 20 percent following Opportunity Zones designation.
But Opportunity Zones also deliver long-lasting solutions by structuring rewards to serve local communities for the long-term. Only investors who commit capital for five, seven, and ten years receive the tax law’s formidable financial benefits. That means new growth becomes consistent growth, and new jobs become steady jobs.
This long-term lens is critical. When investors are “here today, gone tomorrow,” residents face an uncertain future. But when residents know new businesses are “here today, here to stay,” they can plan for the growth of their communities, provide a stable future for their families, and ultimately become homeowners.
To ensure Opportunity Zones reach their potential, I have the privilege to chair the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. This Council consists of members across 16 Federal agencies as well as Federal–State partnerships and maintains the core mission and function to better use public funds to revitalize economically distressed communities.
By having a single body determine interagency consensus — rather than having 16 separate departmental processes — the Council can achieve faster resolution of issues — which means we can deliver faster solutions to disadvantaged neighborhoods and families.
As of now, the Council has identified more than 160 programs that could increase targeting to Opportunity Zones through grant preference points, loan qualifications, reduced fees, and eligibility criteria modifications.
The Council is also going to conduct a listening tour of rural, urban, and suburban Opportunity Zones that will incorporate community leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors, so their local input is always in our ears.
Last week, I visited Birmingham, Alabama’s “Campus of Hope,” where thousands of residents in Birmingham public housing will soon get access to valuable resources to help put them on the path to financial self-sufficiency. I also traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas to tour the development of Cumberland Towers.
Each of these sites is situated in an Opportunity Zone, which means today’s snapshot represents the “before” pictures on a self-development path made possible by the combined power of private-sector investment and this Administration’s foresight in public policy. We expect the “after” picture to be as bright as our Nation’s bold ideals.
It takes more than soil and water for a sapling to grow to its full potential: the final ingredient is sunlight. Our Nation’s vulnerable families already have the grit and persistence to grow. They need only the sunshine that economic opportunity provides to reach the brightness of their American Dream.
Dr. Benjamin S. Carson is the 17th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development