In March, a coalition comprised of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the Fund for Our Economic Future and others, unveiled Opportunity CLE, a strategy for taking advantage of the federal “opportunity zone” program.
According to the Economic Innovation Group, there is an estimated $6 trillion in unrealized capital gains in the U.S. Opportunity zone programs aim to spur investment and development in areas with at least 20-percent poverty levels. Proponents believe these programs will provide new jobs, educational opportunities, affordable housing, and other benefits for the community while critics are concerned they could encourage displacement and gentrification, perpetuating inequality.
Sixty-four opportunity zones have been identified in Cuyahoga County, and 48 are located within the City of Cleveland. In a city where the median income sits at $29,000 and the poverty rate is a staggering 33.1 percent, how do we ensure these dollars catalyze transformation in disenfranchised neighborhoods? Who is responsible for putting community needs ahead of investor profits? And how do we truly leverage this opportunity to overcome our most intractable challenges?