- The Rockefeller Foundation and Smart Growth America (SGA) have created the National Opportunity Zones Academy to help cities drive sustainable growth in opportunity zones by attracting socially responsible investment.
- The foundation will award a $400,000 grant to SGA to fund the academy. SGA's technical assistance team and its LOCUS program — a coalition of real estate developers and investors who prioritize equitable development — will work with participating cities to transform Opportunity Zones into thriving neighborhoods.
- The five cities chosen to participate in the academy are Chicago; Miami (and surrounding communities/beaches); Norfolk, VA; Pittsburgh and Seattle.
Besides the benefits of technical assistance and access to socially responsible investors, the program will provide the five participating cities with opportunities to share best practices with each other. The overall goal is to help communities in opportunity zones become economically thriving, socially inclusive and walkable neighborhoods.
News of the academy comes on the heels of the foundation providing $3.7 million in grants to drive investment in opportunity zones, with a large part of the money going toward human capital for its newly launched Opportunity Zone Community Capacity Building Initiative. However, academy participants will receive technical support only from LOCUS, not from the other groups involved in the capacity building program. Academy participants also will not receive funding for a Chief Opportunity Zone Officer or the two community engagement managers, which are provided for the other opportunity zone program.
Like the participants in the capacity building program, the five academy participants previously were members of the recently disbanded 100 Resilient Cities. A representative for the Rockefeller Foundation previously told Smart Cities Dive that the new funding would help the cities continue opportunity zone work they had already begun through 100 Resilient Cities.
The academy is the Rockefeller Foundation's latest effort to support vulnerable communities through the federal opportunity zone program created in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The federal initiative provided tax breaks to investors who put money into businesses and properties in distressed areas selected by state and federal governments. The foundation says the academy will help with learning and scaling policies and practices that support low-wage workers by establishing economic stability.