So far, opportunity zones have mostly benefited neighborhoods already on the upswing and middle-class renters. The opportunity zone program has no job guarantees and no mechanism that requires projects to benefit the poor. Nationwide criticism of the program has focused on the tax credit funding luxury apartments, hotels and office towers. And a recent study suggests the zones have actually attracted slightly fewer new jobs than areas that were eligible for the zone program, but not selected for it.
Cleveland—which is home to roughly half of the publicly announced opportunity zone projects in Ohio, according to information from the Economic Innovation Group—is a good place to get past the hype and drill down on the limitations of the program. Interviews with the developers of the projects reveal that opportunity zone funding was not essential to making the projects happen. Some of the developers even say the program could use the sort of fixes that Joe Biden has proposed.
Funds often go to projects that would have happened anyway.
Kevin Wojton bought the abandoned Masonic temple in Cleveland’s resurgent Ohio City neighborhood before the Trump tax cuts passed in 2017. He’s converting it into a rock-climbing gym, a yoga studio and a tech nonprofit. Loans from Chemical Bank, the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have financed the project so far, but Wojton has also launched his own opportunity zone fund to take advantage of the Trump tax break. He says he’ll use about $100,000 from his fund as working capital to open his rock-climbing gym in 2021.
“We talked to every single opportunity zone fund in the United States, and every single one of them said, ‘Hey, when you’re ready to do a $100-million, multifamily new build, let me know,’” says Wojton, a Cleveland-area native who worked in tech company