HUD Secretary Ben Carson Promotes Low-Income ‘Opportunity Zones’ Development Program In Miami Visit

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson says lower-income areas around the Miami area will get a boost from a federal tax credit intended to help drive development.

Carson spoke with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez at a summit Friday to promote the Opportunity Zone program. It’s about giving investors tax credits on capital gains to pump cash into poor, underinvested neighborhoods – places that have been identified as opportunity zones. There are over 120 opportunity zones in South Florida, including nearly 70 in Miami-Dade County.

The program was passed as part of the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts. Carson said it could help revitalize areas with new homes, jobs and businesses.

“How do we share with the people who have traditionally been forgotten?” Carson asked an audience of developers and other entrepreneurs at the summit at the James L. Knight Center. “You know, now there really is a chance to do something about it.”

The program has already helped stimulate investment in some neglected neighborhoods across the country. However, the opportunity zones have also been criticized for engaging affluent communities and diverting funds to high-end luxury developments.

Some of the zones classified as low-income based on census data from years ago have since gentrified. The New York Times reported that in Miami’s Design District, for example, the tax credit will help finance a luxury building with a landscaped roof terrace.

Fabiola Fleuranvil, one of the participants, is a developer who specializes in housing workers at Icon Heritage Partners. She said the program needed better parameters to qualify as an opportunity zone.

“If it’s not holistic, equitable development, for me it’s just some kind of other building that’s on the way,” said Fleuranvil. She noticed that she was trying to use the Opportunity Zone funding for her own projects.

Herman Dorsett, a partner with The HELP Companies who also attended the summit, added that he could do more to take advantage of the program.

“The criticism is justified,” said Dorsett, who specializes in building affordable housing in areas such as Liberty City, Miami Gardens and Allapattah. “Capitalists have played the game … now it’s time for everyone else to get up to their level and play the game too.”

Supporters of the program have said that luxury projects are the easiest to fund and that they were done first. And Carson said poorer areas will see businesses that bring social benefits.

Suarez said Friday that the program could help address a labor and affordable housing shortage across the city.

“We’re trying to make sure we can incentivize the kind of projects the city of Miami is looking for,” Suarez said. “We try to be creative…. and do the things our residents need. “

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