Opportunity Zones Evaluation and Policy Updates
CREATED 10/22/18; UPDATED 2/27/19
In this section, we're compiling highlights related to policy and evaluation decisions in the Opportunity Zone program. This page will evolve as we develop a timeline of key milestones particularly relevant to the philanthropic community. Visit the Opportunity Zone (OZ) Resource Library for more information on the program.
The Opportunity Zone program was announced as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a program intended to spur investments in designated low-income census tracts. (To learn more about the overall program, visit MIE's OZ library.) The first release of legislation left many questions remaining, including clarity of language on process, eligibility, and how impact would be monitored.
Each state had until March 21, 2018 to designate up to 25% of qualified low income census tracts, for approval by the U.S. Treasury. Click here to view a list of qualified OZs and how they were selected and here for an overview of the process by MIE. Certain updates were made in December 2018 to include tracts in Puerto Rico.
On October 19th, 2018, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued much-awaited guidelines for the OZ program. It answered several FAQs since the tax bill’s passage, including what type of investments would qualify for the preferential tax treatment in an OZ and noted that investors will still qualify for long-term tax benefits even if they invest in an area that loses its opportunity zone status in future years. It also noted that a business can qualify for investment if 70% of the tangible business property is in an OZ property— a clarification of the “substantially all” requirement. Announcements indicated that the draft regulations, which were subject to 60 days of public comment, were scheduled for completion in Spring 2019. Social impact guidelines were not substantively mentioned in the new guidance. See this write-up by the Center for American Progress for a response.
Ongoing Community Responses To Improve Impact Reporting and Evaluation Guidance
On July 19, 2018, in response to the initial absence of details on impact reporting, the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, the Beeck Center, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Case Foundation, Sorenson Impact Center, and other partners came together to discuss the future of Opportunity Zones. From that discussion emerged key policy recommendations and ideas, synthesized in a blog published in August. This convening and other discussions informed the contents of a letter to the Treasury by the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance (linked below), which outlined a series of recommendations while the Treasury Department was in the process of developing further guidance around the OZ program. These recommendations were not closely incorporated into the first round of treasury guidance released in October.
In February 2019, following those discussions, the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance and the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University released a more comprehensive framework that can allow stakeholders of all kinds to link their work to the emerging nationwide body of Opportunity Zones practice.
We have summarized key points below.
Understanding Opportunity and Needs in Communities: Combine metrics that capture performance over time and across dimensions, creating detailed, data-driven profiles for each low-income community, and a clear commitment to engage communities directly, offering space for them to drive their neighborhoods' futures. Inclusive practices are not written into legislation, thus asking local leaders and private actors to step in.
Establishing Evidence of Outcomes and Platforms to Aggregate and Share It: Data (annually, over time, and transparently available) on investments is necessary to help assess impact and align with other community development programs. Participants discussed various considerations when developing tools, including data from investors and investees. Community voices can frame data with real experiences.
Maintaining Flexibility for Investors and Investees: Impact reporting should track against goals, while allowing investors and investees to adapt in response to need. It should also not create unnecessary reporting burdens for fund managers, particularly those driven by mission.
Commit to Ongoing Learning: Participants expressed the need to move swiftly to keep social impact central to dialogue. A lack of consensus on impact frameworks should not stand in the action and iteration.