I spent this evening reading about Opportunity Zones, or “O-zones”, in the United States.
For a census tract to become an O-zone, it has to have a poverty rate of 20% or higher, or the median household income has to be less than 80% of the surrounding area. Governors are also only able to designate 25% of their eligible census tracts.
Here is a map of the areas that have been designated as Opportunity Zones.
Here is how these O-zones work. (All excerpts taken from this Forbes article.)
The law’s engine is a new breed of financial product, the opportunity fund, that offers investors a trifecta of attractive tax breaks. Here’s how it works. Investors who sell assets have 180 days to plow their taxable capital gains into an approved opportunity fund, which must hold 90% of its assets in Opportunity Zone projects. To put money to work fast, the law requires that the funds invest all of their cash within some specified time frame. (The Treasury Department is still deciding on that and other crucial details.) Tax on the original reinvested gain isn’t due until 2026, and the taxable gain is cut by 15%. Meanwhile the new opportunity investment grows tax-free, like a Roth IRA, provided it’s held for at least ten years. (If it’s sold earlier, it can be rolled into another opportunity fund and remain tax-free.)
Here is how it could get the real estate industry to take action.
For real estate developers, O-zones offer cheap real estate and unlimited, untaxed upside if a neighborhood takes off. Developers must do more than stash cash in crumbling property. To qualify for tax perks, they must make swift and significant upgrades (at least equal to the cost of the initial purchase). With real estate projects come new office buildings, industrial districts, restaurants and affordable housing—all of which can lay the groundwork for an economic boom. “The real estate aspect is a great catalyst to attract new businesses,” says AOL founder Steve Case, an early supporter of the O-zone initiative, whose Rise of the Rest Fund invests in backwater areas. “But it’s the startups that will be the real job creators.”
And here is how it could influence where new businesses decide to locate.
“If Facebook could have chosen to locate itself in an Opportunity Zone, like the Tenderloin in San Francisco, the investors would’ve paid no capital gains on their equity,” says Parker, who presumably would have been one of the big winners. The promise of mega-returns could send VCs, investment banks and private equity firms scrambling to launch their own opportunity funds to create incubators, scour second cities for overlooked talent or move portfolio companies into O-zones. “It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of Silicon Valley VCs started to tell founders, ‘We’d like you to go over the bridge to Oakland, or we’d like you to go to Stockton,’” Parker says.
If you’d like to learn more about Opportunity Zones, check out the Forbes article.