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Lawmakers Seek Greater Opportunity Zone Oversight and Information Reporting, Float Possible Reforms

  • November 8, 2019

Treasury Department x475

In response to allegations that the Treasury Secretary improperly intervened in the designation of certain census tracts as Opportunity Zones, key Democratic lawmakers put forward proposals this week to enhance Opportunity Zone information reporting, reform aspects of the tax incentives, and formally investigate the reports of wrongdoing.

  • The allegations, published in the New York Times, have been denied by both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Michael Milken, the implicated private investor.  (Bloomberg, Oct. 29, 2019) (Letter from Michael Milken to the Milken Institute Community)
  • On Monday, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Richie Neal (D-MA) and the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced they were launching an investigation to determine “whether political appointees interfered in the process to potentially steer millions in tax breaks to longtime associates.”  (Letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin requesting a wide range of documents and records.)
  • The same day, Chairman Neal, Senator Wyden, Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis (D-GA), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) sent a letter asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to collect and analyze information about how the Opportunity Zones incentive has been implemented by Treasury and the IRS, how census tracts were designated as Opportunity Zones, what compliance measures were used to ensure adherence to the law, and how the Treasury Department can measure the effectiveness of the tax incentive.
  • Just two day later, on Wednesday, Senator Wyden introduced the Opportunity Zone Reporting and Reform Act (S. 2787).  Under the bill, in addition to requiring greater taxpayer reporting, certain previously certified census tracts would no longer qualify as Opportunity Zones.  Several types of real estate assets would be blacklisted and ineligible for investment (e.g., self-storage property, stadiums, casinos).  In the case of opportunity funds that are renovating or rehabilitating existing structures, the bill would increase the level of new investment required to qualify for benefits.
  • The Wyden bill would exclude multifamily housing as an eligible Opportunity Zone investment unless 50 percent or more of the housing units are rent-restricted and occupied by tenants whose income is 50 percent or less of the area median income.  (Detailed Summary)
  • If enacted, the restriction on multifamily housing could have a profound negative impact on future Opportunity Zone investment.  New research indicates that multifamily construction starts represented over one-half (53.2%) of the total commercial real estate investment in Opportunity Zones over the last 18 months.  (CBRE, Multifamily Development: A Bright Spot in Opportunity Zone Initiative, Nov. 6, 2019)
  • Also on Wednesday, Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI), Mike Kelly (R-PA), and Terri Sewell (D-AL) unveiled bipartisan draft legislation to enhance reporting requirements for opportunity funds.  The Opportunity Zone Accountability and Transparency Act would require opportunity funds to submit annual information reports that would be publicly available.  In the case of real estate investments, funds would report information such as: the aggregate amount invested, structures’ square footage, the number of residential units, the number of low-income residential units, and the number of employees, Failure to report information accurately could trigger a penalty up to $200,000.

Since its enactment, The Real Estate Roundtable has strongly supported the Opportunity Zone tax incentives as a potential powerful catalyst for transformational real estate investment in economically struggling parts of the country. Through its Tax Policy Advisory Committee and Opportunity Zone Working Group, The Roundtable has played an active role throughout the lengthy rulemaking process, offering constructive comments and recommendations to Treasury officials. (GlobeSt.com interview with Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer) (Roundtable Weekly, Dec. 21, 2018)

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