A Route Fifty article (2018-12-12) announced that President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a 13-agency council to focus on directing existing federal resources to eligible distressed communities under the Opportunity Zones program. The “White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council” will examine how federal agencies can prioritize their financing, grants, and other assistance to support Opportunity Zones.
Created under the 2017 federal tax reform initiative, Opportunity Zones are designated census tracts submitted by the states and approved by the federal government. The Zones encourage long-term private investment in low-income communities by providing federal tax breaks on any capital gains that result from specific investment in those communities. Currently there are about 8,700 Zones nationwide that are eligible for assistance and funding. Maryland proposed 149 Zones throughout the state, including much of Baltimore City. MACo had previously urged the State to consider county government input into when designating the Zones.
“This council will coordinate efforts across the entire federal government to deliver jobs, investment and growth to the communities that need it the most,” Trump said during an event at the White House where he signed the directive.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson will chair the Council and the Council must submit recommendations to change federal laws, regulations, policies and programs to encourage investment in Opportunity Zones. The Council is specifically required under the executive order to engage with both states and local governments.
“That’s the most important part of what the executive order is doing,” [Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs Ja’Ron Smith] said. “It’s showing federal leadership on how we plan to work with state and local leaders to ensure the success of Opportunity Zones.”
The article noted that Trump was supposed to make the announcement in Baltimore City, but was changed to Washington, DC. Some Baltimore advocates attended the Washington event.
Baltimore, [Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore Pastor Donte Hickman] said, was prepared to be a “demonstration project” for a national urban revitalization strategy. “We have the plan, we have the property, we have the people, we have the professional expertise and we have the prospectus,” Hickman added.