GIFC: Opportunity Zones and Financial Stability

Good Ideas for Cities

A few weeks ago, we shared the insights from two of the panels at our Summer 2019 Annual Meeting in Columbia, SC. Below, we’ve highlighted the final two panels: Opportunity Zones and Addressing Household Financial Stability. Read on for a re-cap from these sessions, including linked resources.

Opportunity Zones

Since the roll-out of the Opportunity Zone program in 2017, cities across the country have grappled with the program’s implications, not only for potential investors looking to bring capital to under-performing markets, but also for those residents living in the affected areas. This session, facilitated by Brett Theodos of the Urban Institute, sought to arm mayors with a strong understanding of the mechanics of the program as well as strategies and ideas to encourage equitable development in their communities.

Mayor Benjamin, of Columbia, SC, laid out how creating a City Prospectus can help cities craft a narrative of their community and identify specific sites for investments. Julia Parzen highlighted how cities can leverage Opportunity Zones to advance environmental sustainability, such as layering tax incentives with existing programs like the Brownfield Cleanup Program. Rudy Espinoza made the case that mayors are uniquely positioned to empower local ecosystems of economic development and that Opportunity Zones need not rely on outside investors to leverage capital.

Household Financial Stability

The lack of financial security for US households is one of the most intractable problems in our society. Cities face both an imperative and an opportunity to promote financial stability in US households through progressive solutions, and the panel on Household Financial Stability made the case for investments in progressive approaches on this issue. Joanna Smith-Ramani, of the Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program, provided a comprehensive overview of the impact of financial instability on families, communities and cities. She also reviewed a range of programs that city leaders are using to begin tackling the problem.

We learned about Columbia, SC’s work to advance a set of financial literacy programs for City staff and residents, aiming to empower residents with tools and information to establish good credit and take steps to build wealth. Tishaura Jones, Treasurer of St. Louis, highlighted her Office’s work to reduce debt, fines and fees for residents. She also discussed their hallmark program, College Kids, which establishes children’s savings accounts for all city kindergarteners of low and moderate-income, funded through parking revenue.