Local governments nominate ‘Opportunity Zones’ for federal tax breaks

WASHINGTON — D.C., Maryland and Virginia have nominated locations, that if accepted by the U.S. Treasury Department, would become “Opportunity Zones,” which would be eligible for tax breaks designed to help develop struggling neighborhoods.

The $1.5 billion “Opportunity Zone” program received bipartisan support when it was introduced as part of the 2017 federal tax overhaul. Its aim, according to supporters, is to allow investors to take advantage of big breaks on federal capital gains taxes by investing in small businesses and housing in lower-income communities.

In Maryland, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development selected 149 zones, which included several in Montgomery County. One area is a stretch of Rockville Pike, between Twinbrook Parkway and Rockville Town Center. It’s only a block away from White Flint, an area Amazon is reportedly considering for its second headquarters. Areas in White Oak, Silver Spring and Wheaton also were nominated.

In Prince George’s County, tracts selected include areas near the University of Maryland College Park, MGM National Harbor and FedEx Field.

“I’m excited to establish these zones and further leverage private, nonprofit and public sector funds, providing new opportunities for housing, retail and business growth to fuel the state’s economic engine and create jobs,” said Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Kenneth C. Holt in a statement.

In the District, 25 areas were selected in the city’s eight wards, and 17 of them are in Wards 7 and 8. Others include Buzzard Point near DC United’s Audi Field in Ward 6, and an area near Howard University in Ward 1.

“With feedback from our residents and stakeholders, we are moving forward with a program that offers another tool for us to drive investment in every corner of D.C. and put more Washingtonians on pathways to the middle class,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in the city’s announcement of the Opportunity Zone nominations.

Virginia chose 212 Opportunity Zones for nomination. In Northern Virginia, those areas include neighborhoods near Dulles International Airport and others along Route 7 and Interstate 395.

“Opportunity Zones are an important federal tool to spur vitality in economic growth in communities across Virginia and we are committed to using them fully in this administration,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in a statement.

Supporters from both sides of the political aisle believe the program will revitalize neighborhoods and improve local economies.

But some critics, such as Andy Looney, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy center, part of the Brookings Institution, allege the program includes few policies which could keep current residents in their neighborhoods and provide more low-and-middle-income housing. Looney said it’s unclear if low-income residents will benefit from the program or be forced to move out as their neighborhood gentrifies.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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