My plan is to mobilize the resources of the City and to access the available resources of the State and Federal governments to embark on a plan to reclaim the City’s long neglected neighborhoods and to put them on the path towards real growth and economic opportunity.
A critical component of this initiative will be fully exploiting the Opportunity Zone Program tax incentives that were included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
- The Right Program
This is the first Public / Private Partnership that will have significant participation along with a positive effect consistent with its mandate to invest in geographic areas of economic distress. The creators of this program had great vision and implemented a pragmatic approach that is going to work.
- The Right Timing
Given the historic run up in stock market valuations since 2009 as well as vast real estate appreciation, investors have tremendous capital gains available to leverage this program.
- The Best Location: Chicago!
Chicago has incredible attributes for this program, highlighted below. I intend to provide the leadership and the creative ideas needed (highlighted below) to make Chicago the undisputed premium location for private sector money to invest under this program.
History / Overview of Program
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in the closing days of 2017 included the creation of a new investment program with unprecedented tax incentives for the private sector to make investments in Qualified Opportunity Zones & Opportunity Funds.
Qualified Opportunity Zones in the program are clearly defined. They are economically distressed, low-income census tracts. Under the Opportunity Zone program 57% of all neighborhoods in America were eligible for consideration. More than 8,700 census tracts are now designed as Opportunity Zones with 133 of those census tracks pending federal approval in Chicago.
The Opportunity Zone and Opportunity Funds platform is designed specifically to promote investment in the development of low-income communities across the US, by offering investors tremendous federal tax advantages on capital gains that are only available through this new program.
Here’s how the incentive works:
Individual or corporate investors can defer their capital gains on investments in opportunity funds for a certain number of years (and in limited cases, permanently). The asset classes in Opportunity Funds are broad and flexible, with few set parameters: think affordable housing, real estate, infrastructure, and even transit. Cities, suburbs, rural enclaves, and regions can establish their own Opportunity Funds to identify needs ranging from hyperlocal (small businesses) to intra-state (transit). Once selected, Opportunity Zones keep the designation for 10 years. There is no provision in the statute to change which communities are classified as Opportunity Zones.
Given the breadth of eligible investment types, Opportunity Zones must be carefully selected to ensure the return on the public investment is maximized and will lead to gains for low- and moderate-income residents.
Opportunity Zones are diverse. There may be a medical district which has the potential to work works like an innovation district. There may be an area of the city near a University that has a strong engineering focus. The may be a near-in but economically fenced-off area but it’s an area that the market has historically ignored or discounted or failed to appreciate.
The promise of Opportunity Zones is that self-selecting communities can identify their assets and signal their potential to investors. An opportunity fund that drives investment into small businesses and real estate into depressed neighborhoods could be a model for opportunity zones. The same way that innovation districts and anchor institutions resemble one another (as markets) from one city to the next, so will the to-be-determined opportunities in distressed communities.
This program should be embraced in a bipartisan way as it is a mechanism that, if embraced by cities and municipal leadership, provides a substantive framework to accomplish a long stated goal of politicians on both sides of the isle—to embrace a public / private partnership that can accelerate the expansion of resurging core city centers into the outlying areas that have largely been left behind during the resurgence.
I have a plan to further expand and support the Opportunity Zone program to make Chicago a stand-alone leader for private pools of Opportunity Funds to invest in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Chicago, A Tale of Two Cities
Chicago, under its current leadership, has evolved into an extreme version of a “tale of two cities.” Chicago’s core city center, is a three to five mile radius of thriving businesses, a growing population, and incredible retail, restaurant, cultural, and entertainment venues. The core downtown, since the mid-1990’s, has been a globally recognized gem and a rare example of a combined “work, live, and play location” for residents, businesses, and tens of millions of global travelers.
Between 2010 and 2016 the city of Chicago gained more households in a key category—total income of more than $100,000 with the head of household under age 45—than any city in the US except for far larger New York. Chicago’s demographics of young professionals has been growing incredibly fast for many years, starting in the 1990’s.
Chicago, as the third biggest city in the US with over 2.7 million residents, is much bigger than its core city center. Chicago is known as a city of 77 distinct communities and a city with possibly the most diversification of ethnicity and immigrant backgrounds of any city in the world. These 77 communities each have characteristics and attributes that make them unique. This diverse fabric makes Chicago a special and incredibly resilient city.
Unfortunately, most of Chicago’s 77 communities have not experienced the gains that the core city center has achieved. In fact, many of these 77 communities have been entirely left behind. The lack of progress in these “left behind” communities is striking. A simple drive through these communities shows areas that have not recovered since the great recession and some on the west side of Chicago that have not recovered since the 1968 riots related to the death of Martin Luther King Jr.
I intend to support the gains of the core city center while taking aggressive action to push the gains achieved in the city center to these struggling communities, just miles away from the thriving downtown.
I have a complete economic plan and fully embrace the Opportunity Zone and Fund program as a core element of that comprehensive plan. I intend to add unique city support to further enhance the Opportunity Zone & Fund platform. My goal is to make Chicago the most attractive destination for private capital to invest in these struggling Opportunity Zone communities.
Chicago’s “Strong” Mayoral System & Specific Opportunity Zone Enhancements
One of my specific goals is to take immediate action, if successful in this mayoral race, to provide further aggressive support for Opportunity Zone private investment in Chicago.
It should be noted that Chicago has a “strong Mayor” system which is different than many urban cities in the country which have an elected Mayor but a city manager and many diverse stakeholders that collectively make decisions. The Mayor of Chicago has vast authority and substantial influence over key programs and special designated development / enhancement funding. It’s about time that Mayoral influence was used properly this as a difference maker for Chicago’s struggling communities when used to support the Opportunity Zone program.
The biggest of these mayoral controlled programs in Chicago is the Tax Incremental Financing program (“TIF”).
Nearly a third of property taxes now collected by the City of Chicago in property taxes goes into 143 special taxing districts (TIF) controlled and allocated for specific “investments” in various communities largely by Chicago’s Mayor. In 2017 a record-high $660 million poured into tax-increment financing funds, which was more than 31 percent of the $2.1 billion-plus that the City of Chicago collected. Many have referred to this money as a “pot of gold.” The 143 TIF zones account for about 1 in every 4 properties in Chicago.
Of this $660 million nearly half of it goes into TIF districts in more affluent city neighborhoods. The program needs adjustment in order to grow the city by invigorating the neighborhoods that have been left behind under the current leadership in Chicago.
The Mayor of Chicago has vast discretion over how this $660 million is used for “investing” in the city. If I become Mayor I will specifically move to alter the TIF program to vastly support private sector investment into Chicago’s Opportunity Zone communities.
Understanding that investors and developers want to allocate their resources in areas that have the best profile for long term appreciation under the Opportunity Zone program, I have come up with ways to enhance this program which will effectively make it a Federal and City Public and Private Partnership, the first of its kind.
Here are some of my specific plans:
1.) Promote the Program & Work Collaboratively with Washington DC.
Openly embrace the program and promote it with vigor. The partisan politics that have effectively severed the relationship between Chicago and Washington DC need to be brought back to a civil level so that Chicago’s leadership can use every available tool to benefit our great city. Running a city requires finding pragmatic ways to work together regardless of political affiliation.
2.) Enhance TIF Program for More Flexibility to Promote Chicago Success
Move to enact changes to the TIF program in Chicago that will provide an enhanced level of flexibility to “port” or use part of the vast TIF pools of funds in more affluent districts to enhance public infrastructure of opportunity zones that are attracting private investment.
Specifically I will work to modify the TIF program so we have the ability to “port” or re-allocate up to 33% of existing affluent TIF district funds to Opportunity Zone tracts in Chicago for the sole purpose of enhancing and building infrastructure like schools, infrastructure improvements, environmental remediation, street scaping and landscaping, beautification projects, parks, and other core elements to enhance the Opportunity Zone communities.
The “porting” of such funds, as noted above, will be done with a goal to enhance the viability of private sector investment under the Opportunity Zone platform.
3.) Further Develop Chicago’s Already Vast Public Transportation
Further expand and enhance Chicago’s vast public transportation system. This is a unique advantage that Chicago has for private sector investors to consider. Almost every Opportunity Zone track in Chicago has access to a robust and vast network of public transportation options. Most Opportunity Zone tracks in the US cannot offer such an important benefit to new development.
4.) Expedite Zoning & Entitlement
Provide an expedited and more liberal zoning and entitlement process for development in Opportunity Zones in Chicago. Given the incentives embedded in the program for rapid investment in the next 17 months, I will accelerate the path for city approval on such projects.
5.) Facilitate City Owned Land and Buildings
In certain circumstances, I will facilitate the securing of certain city owned land and buildings as a city contribution to development and repurposing projects.
6.) Provide Enhanced Opportunities for Developers that Leverage Locals
More favorable treatment and city driven benefits for developers in the program that use local Chicagoans for their projects, adhere to MBE and WBE allocation of work, and create long term jobs in the Opportunity Zones.
7.) Provide Broad Tax Abatements.
To reduce the cost to businesses during the critical initial phase of development to enable the business investments to take root, I will consider providing multi-year property and sale tax abatements as well as discounted rates on City utilities.
8.) Work to Further Expand Program
As the program gains traction, I will reach out to federal leadership in Washington DC in order to try to enact additional bi-partisan legislation to expand and enhance the program further by extending the length of the program and supporting even further tax incentives for private sector investors.
I have given serious thought on how to support and enhance the Opportunity Zone and Fund program enacted in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Despite the long need for these Opportunity Zone communities to garner investment, Chicago’s current Mayor will never commit in full to a program of this nature as he has harbored a toxic relationship with the current political leadership team in Washington DC and would never embrace a program that would potentially give them any credit for implementing a program with vast potential.
It is unfortunate but the political discord that Chicago’s current Mayor has harbored is hurting Chicagoans. Mayors of big cities need to find ways, despite political differences, to work with others to implement policies and practices that enhance the quality of life for the people they serve. This includes working with people who don’t share your political philosophies for the benefit of your city.
I will always seek to find ways to set aside political differences to work on successful programs with leaders from Springfield, other cities, other states, and Washington DC. This program will be no exception.
I appreciate the risk that private sector investors face even with the tremendous federal tax incentives laid out in this program and wants Chicago to take prudent steps to make Chicago the friendliest city in America for long-term, private investment in its Opportunity Zones.