Lost amid the federal government’s 2017 revision of the tax code was a provision for something known as qualified opportunity zones (QOZs).
What once was lost now is found. Or soon will be, anyway.
Opportunity zones are, as defined by the IRS, economically distressed communities in which new investment is encouraged, under certain conditions.
In other words, QOZs represent an opportunity for the economic development of traditionally underfunded areas, and an opportunity for investors. And precious few people are discussing it, beyond the real estate and venture capital space.
That could and should change as we draw nearer to January 2019, when the mutual benefits of QOZs become a reality. If at that point an investor sells an existing, appreciated asset like stocks or real estate, they can then invest the capital gains in an OZ fund — and taxes on those cap gains can be deferred until December 31, 2026.
Additionally, the cap gains basis increases by 10 percent if the taxpayer maintains the investment for a minimum of five years, and an additional five percent if he or she holds it for at least seven.
Finally, cap gains accrued after an investment in a QOZ will not be taxed at all if the investment is held for at least 10 years.
In short, this is a bargain for investors. But the genius of this structure is that it both seeks investments to shore up low-income communities and, through an OZ fund, reallocates capital to these investments from those outside the zone. By tying an OZ fund to a QOZ, authorities basically redistribute capital earned in higher-income areas to those areas more in need.
As mandated by law, such places may include manufacturing towns in which jobs were lost to outsourcing and automation, or areas recovering from particularly devastating natural disasters.
It is left to state governors to determine those regions within their jurisdictions that may qualify to be QOZs, and nominate them to the Secretary of the Treasury and the IRS for evaluation. Upon final approval, QOZs are added to the Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI); note that they aren’t labeled by zip code, but by census tract number.
To date, every state has at least one QOZ, as does each major city. A report from international law firm Skadden estimates that QOZs encompass some 12 percent of the nation’s landmass (as well as all of Puerto Rico).
Certainly there was a need for such legislation, given the fact that larger metropolitan areas tended to recover more quickly from the 2008 economic crisis than smaller cities — and the fact that even within those large cities, there remain pockets untouched by the recovery.
So this should help, while at the same time giving investors a nice little bump. The caveats are that there is a ceiling on tax exemptions for any OZ funds, and that taxpayers are required to sell an existing, appreciated asset rather than putting said asset into an OZ fund.
But all in all, it is a win-win. And to date, not nearly enough investors are aware of that.