For restaurant owner Georges Laguerre, gentrification seems inevitable. He moved from Los Angeles to Miami’s Little Haiti after wealthier people began moving into his neighborhood. Now, with the creating of opportunity zones, which resulted from the federal tax cuts and jobs act of 2017, he fears the process could even be faster than ever.
The opportunity zones were approved by Congress to boost investment in poor and struggling neighborhoods.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson spoke alongside Miami Mayor Francis Suarez at a summit in September to promote the new program. According to Carson, the program provides a tax benefit for investors.
“With the opportunity zones, you can take those unrealized capital gains and invest them,” said Carson. “If you do that for five years you get 10 percent decrement.”
There are more than 120 opportunity zones in South Florida with nearly 70 in Miami-Dade County and one in Little Haiti. Residents such as Laguerre say the program will benefit investors more than communities.
Recently, the controversial Magic City Innovation District was approved under the Opportunity Zone program. Residents and activists criticized the plan and raised fears that Little Haiti residents would be pushed out as rents rise. This, they said, might harm local business owners and eventually transform the community.
“The problem with opportunity zones is that there is very little transparency,” said Alana Greer, co-director of the Community Justice Project, an advocacy group. “There’s no real accountability of what is the type of investment and actually is good for the people.”
Mayor Suarez responded to the controversy by saying that the city will have high standards for those who want to qualify and that businesses not beneficial to residents won’t be approved.