- The Rockefeller Foundation is awarding $3.7 million in grants to four cities to help drive investment in opportunity zones. The funding will go toward attracting investments to economically distressed areas in Dallas, St. Louis, Oakland, CA and Washington, DC.
- Each city will participate in the program for two years, and part of the funding will help to create the position of Chief Opportunity Zone Officer. Those cities join Atlanta and Newark, NJ which already are participants in the program that launched in May.
- "It's very important to understand that the large part of this funding goes toward human capital ... It's less about providing financial resources for the deals and more about providing the wherewithal for the cities and communities to get what's in their best interest out of those deals," Otis Rolley, managing director of U.S. jobs and economic opportunity initiatives for the Rockefeller Foundation, told Smart Cities Dive.
The cities chosen for the program were part of the the Rockefeller Foundation's recently disbanded 100 Resilient Cities program. The United States had a cohort of 25 cities involved in the global program and the existing relationships with those cities helped the Rockefeller Foundation choose who would receive the new grants based on their strengths, challenges and priorities.
"We saw them rise high on the list because of the work they were trying to embark upon in opportunity zones, with a special emphasis on equity and community engagement and involvement," Rolley said. The new grants will assist the cities in continuing this work.
The foundation notes that the four cities to receive grants contain 97 opportunity zones which house more than 362,000 residents. The idea for this opportunity zones program is to put citizens at the center of the work and provide cities with the resources to shape investments that will create good-paying jobs, promote affordable housing and allow for greater economic opportunity.
The federal opportunity zone program created in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts provided tax breaks to investors who put money into businesses and properties in distressed areas selected by state and federal governments. Opportunity zone projects could include new retail in mixed used developments or affordable housing. The Rockefeller Foundation's opportunity zone program builds on the federal program by providing assistance with bringing the right talent to communities to make sure the public benefits from the investments.
"While it is a great tool to bring private capital to distressed areas, if that private capital only enriches the individuals who are getting the tax breaks, then the project has failed," Rolley said. The foundation views success as creating true economic opportunity for citizens. "If we and others don't step in and provide resources for that to occur, it could be a tool only for those who are already rich," and not the underserved residents living in the opportunity zone, Rolley said.