Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Charleston Opportunity Zones Summit
Charleston, South Carolina, July 17, 2020

 

Thank you, Director Moss (Andrew Moss, Director for Minority Outreach for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency), for the introduction and for leading today’s event.

I’d also like to thank my good friend Senator Scott (Senator Tim Scott, South Carolina) for inviting me to join you here today for a discussion about one of the most important initiatives we’ve seen come out of this Administration: Opportunity Zones. You’ve been a great leader on this initiative, and your impact will be felt in communities throughout the Palmetto state and far beyond.

Opportunity Zones Update

For generations, the idea of the Federal Government providing housing assistance meant only one thing—helping to pay the rent so families can have a roof over their heads.

But we know that we have got to think bigger than that. We must also think about how we can help families access financial programs, healthcare, educational opportunities, and higher paying jobs. In short, we must think beyond investing in bricks and mortar, and think about investing in people. And that’s what the Opportunity Zones initiative is all about—investing in people.

Many who are with us today are facilitating that investment. You, the local investors, developers, and entrepreneurs, are the true backbone of American revitalization. You are the drivers of change, and the progress we have seen so far is a testament to what we can achieve when the public and the private sector work together.

As part of the initiative, President Trump established the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, which I have the honor to chair. The Council is comprised of 17 Federal agencies and Federal/State partnerships and is focused on complementing the private sector Opportunity Zones investment that continues to flow into these underserved areas.

Since its inception, the Council has traveled across the Nation to urban, rural, and tribal areas throughout the country in designated Opportunity Zones, which are home to 35 million Americans. We have listened to community leaders and stakeholders, and co-developed plans to enhance economic opportunity. Based on this feedback, the Trump Administration has taken more than 300 actions to promote the mission of Opportunity Zones.

These actions feature changes to regulations, new grant applications with preference points for Opportunity Zones, and more items identified by the Trump Administration that not only bolster Opportunity Zones, but also the lives of the Americans residing within them.

Through this initiative, we have fostered partnerships between people who have never sat at the same table before – community leaders, business leaders, faith-based leaders, housing advocates, investors, builders, state officials, and federal officials.

It is important to note that action on Opportunity Zones has not been limited to the Federal level. Across the country, State and local governments, and community leaders are developing Opportunity Zone strategies that best suit the needs of their unique communities.

And now, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump has directed the Council to utilize its structure for a renewed focus on protecting our most vulnerable communities from this invisible enemy and uplifting them in economic recovery.

Also in response to the pandemic, the IRS issued a notice in June that granted five different forms of relief regarding Qualified Opportunity Fund investing in Opportunity Zones, including extended deadlines and waived requirements.

For example, if your last day of the 180-day investment period to make an investment in a Qualified Opportunity Fund had been set to fall between April 1 and the end of this calendar year, that date has automatically been postponed until December 31, 2020.

Additionally, the 90-Percent Investment Standard for Qualified Opportunity Funds has been waived for the remainder of 2020, and there is a working capital safe harbor extension for an additional 24 months, to name a few examples. All of these actions will further enhance the Opportunity Zones mission.

Best Practices Report

Just last month, the Council delivered our “Best Practices” report to President Trump. The Report documents success stories we’ve seen happening in communities across the country and provides a toolkit for various stakeholder groups who want to become involved with the Opportunity Zones initiative. Local businessmen, community leaders, and elected officials can use this as a resource and draw on its examples for inspiration and innovative new ideas to bring to their own communities. The report even highlights some regulatory reform happening right here in Charleston!

The report features five sections: Best Practices of Local Governments, Best Practices of State Governments, Best Practices of Foundations and Non-Profits, Best Practices of Qualified Opportunity Funds, and Best Practices on Pairing Opportunity Zone Capital with Federal Resources. Each section shares inspiring stories happening in real time to spur revitalizing investments in areas of need. This report, along with other pertinent information, can be found on our website at www.opportunityzones.gov, and I encourage you all to visit the page and see the report for yourself.

CRA Modernization

Here in South Carolina, Opportunity Zones are already making an impact. I’d like to thank Acting Comptroller Brooks (Brian Brooks, Acting Comptroller of the Currency), for your work to encourage investment in underserved communities.

Your announcement of the Community Reinvestment Act modernization will achieve exactly that, by providing even more incentives for investment in Opportunity Zones and other low-income areas.

Conclusion

As many of you may know, before I became HUD Secretary, I spent many years as a pediatric neurosurgeon. In medicine, the goal is simple: return an organ to its full, healthy function. To do this, you have to identify the problem, figure out a solution, and execute the fix—all with a laser-sharp focus and absolute precision.

In many ways, the problem-solving process for surgery mirrors the approach HUD has taken with Opportunity Zones. These are areas that, like an afflicted organ, are no longer achieving their full function due to decades of neglect. These places are meant to be healthy, vibrant, and life-giving. But for decades, they had been forgotten and stuck in stagnation.

But all of that is now changing, and I am proud to be a part of an Administration that is committed to restoring these forgotten communities to their full function.

And our efforts have been fruitful: before the coronavirus came to our shores, our country’s workers and long-struggling communities were in the middle of an Economic Renaissance. “America First” policies rewrote our record books, producing our nation’s all-time lowest unemployment rates for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and women.

Perhaps the most successful economy in history had to – temporarily – be powered down and reconfigured to wage a historic campaign against an unprecedented invisible enemy.

But the fundamentals of our economy remain strong, and we are already seeing the start of a great American comeback. In the last month alone, our nation added a record 4.8 million jobs, bringing the total to 7.5 million new jobs over the last two months. And while we still have a long way to go, it is encouraging to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Each and every one of us can play a role in defeating this virus. I encourage everyone, including young people who are less vulnerable than other groups, to just assume that you are an asymptomatic carrier. If we all act with this elevated level of caution, we will certainly speed up our national recovery.

Just as our Founders turned to the “protection of Divine Providence” in their struggle to achieve our independence, so too do we rely on that same protection from our Creator as we continue to rise above this challenge together.

The American people are resilient, and I have no doubt we will come back from this bigger and stronger than ever before.

Thank you all for being here today, and for your hard work in elevating all of our fellow countrymen. I look forward to our continued partnerships, as we work to make the American Dream a reality for all.

Thank you, and God bless.

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