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

Sam Turken
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson touted the potential benefits of the federal opportunity zone program in a speech with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson says lower-income areas around Miami will receive a boost from a federal tax credit meant to spur development.

Carson spoke alongside Miami Mayor Francis Suarez at a summit on Friday to promote the opportunity zone program. It involves giving investors capital gains tax credits to pump cash into poor, underinvested neighborhoods – places identified as opportunity zones. There are over 120 opportunity zones in South Florida with 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 housing, jobs and business.

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

The program has already helped spur investment in some neglected neighborhoods across the country. But the opportunity zones have also received criticism for including wealthy communities and diverting funding to high-end luxury developments.

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

Fabiola Fleuranvil, one of the attendees, is a developer who specializes in workforce housing with the firm Icon Heritage Partners. She said the program needs better parameters about what qualifies as an opportunity zone.

“If it’s not holistic equitable development, to me it’s just kind of another building that’s coming up,” Fleuranvil said. She noted that she’s trying to tap into opportunity zone funding for her own projects.

Herman Dorsett, a partner at The H.E.L.P. Companies who was also at the summit, added he could do more to take advantage of the program.

“The criticism is warranted,” said Dorsett, who specializes in building affordable housing in areas like Liberty City, Miami Gardens and Allapattah. “Capitalists have been playing the game...now it’s time for everyone else to get on their level and play the game as well.”

Supporters of the program have said that luxury projects are the easiest to finance and therefore have been happening first. And Carson said poorer areas will see deals that produce social benefits.

Suarez said Friday that the program could help address a citywide shortage of workforce and affordable housing.

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

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