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Are Opportunity Zones a Good Investment? Find out with Social Explorer’s new map layer

WEDNESDAY, SEP 11, 2019

“There’s a tremendous amount of data out there that interested parties need to sift through and what we’ve done is synthesize it into easy-to-use and comprehensive tools.” 

– Andrew Beveridge, CEO of Social Explorer

A gang-troubled Brooklyn neighborhood, the slums of South Bronx, the once-grand city of Newburgh, and the run-down areas of Utica are among hundreds of places in New York State and thousands more across the country where opportunities now beckon. Or so the federal government hopes. 

What are Opportunity Zones?

The landmark new program was created in 2017 to boost the revival of economically-distressed neighborhoods across the country. In New York state alone, 514 census tracts have been designated as Opportunity Zones out of a total of 8,764 census tracts countrywide. The zones include roughly 10 percent of the nation’s population.

In Charlotte Gardens, South Bronx, 50% of households live on incomes under $25,000 and 37% of the population lives in poverty. However, as a Social Explorer analysis reveals, median house value is on the rise. In some cases, the median house value in a number of opportunity zones is higher than the county level figure. This is only one out of many indicators that could signal opportunities for investments. Visit https://www.socialexplorer.com/eb2e199326/view to explore further.


How does the program work?

The program is taking shape even as it remains unclear who will get the benefits and how these benefits should be structured. The program aims to direct private investments towards fostering economic development in low-income communities by gradually reducing and eventually eliminating (after 10 years) taxes on real estate investments and other projects within these officially designated Opportunity Zones. The federal government hopes that new development will attract new businesses, jobs, and residents to these areas.

Where are the Opportunity Zones in New York City?

Opportunity Zones sit in or alongside communities ranging from some of the poorest and most troubled in the U.S. to others in varying stages of recovery. New York City’s opportunity zones include the once burned-out Charlotte Gardens neighborhood in The Bronx, historic Harlem in Manhattan, and an area of Brooklyn called East New York riven with gang activity.

Explore the Opportunity Zones in New York City. Visit https://www.socialexplorer.com/efd5a65b4c/view to explore further.


These zones spread across central, upstate, and western New York counties with struggling cities, both small and large. Over the years, manufacturing bases in Newburgh, Utica, Syracuse, and Buffalo have suffered major losses, with their downtown areas marred by vacant storefronts, underused office space, shuttered factories, and decrepit housing. The story is much the same in these designated zones across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories.

Find out which neighborhoods qualified for the federal program in your state or county with this Social Explorer map of designated Opportunity Zones across the U.S. Visit https://www.socialexplorer.com/218f86042c/view to explore further.


What are the critics saying?

While the Internal Revenue Service is yet to finalize the exact rules and guidelines for the tax breaks, the program has drawn mixed reactions from developers, planners, and local officials. A revised set of proposed guidelines can be found here.

To the optimist, the zones could work in tandem with other programs that states and localities have put in place to kickstart redevelopment or advance efforts already underway. In Utica for example, the program could accelerate the revitalization of a struggling downtown area that has recently witnessed new retail, office and residential development, but needs more.

Comparing median gross rent in Utica, mapping census tract to county level.
Visit https://www.socialexplorer.com/5f079bfaf2/view to explore further.


However, others say that the program, as it is structured now, offers too few incentives to overcome the reluctance of developers, investors and businesses to invest in troubled areas. One of the key concerns the IRS needs to address are that the tax breaks are too small and the investments must be held for too long, without any option for them to be repackaged and sold. The program may be more likely to help once-troubled neighborhoods already witnessing a turnaround in investments, such as areas of the South Bronx.

Occupancy status of housing units in South Bronx. A high occupancy rate over the years could suggest an unmet demand for future investments in more housing. Visit https://www.socialexplorer.com/a62ced29ad/view to explore further.


How can I learn more about these zones?

In the thick of all this debate, Social Explorer has added an Opportunity Zones layer to the site’s map and data resources to help you learn more about the demographic factors and shifts in these zones.

Users can explore the maps, and with a few clicks, get detailed, comparative reports of each opportunity zone in the U.S. There are also a number of options to get reports on clusters of zones as well as the local counties.

What can I do with this new layer on Social Explorer?

Although the program has been specifically created to address the needs of low-income communities, simply noticing that incomes are low in these neighborhoods barely scratches the surface. 

With Social Explorer, delve into the demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic features of these neighborhoods at a granular level to learn more about these communities. Retrieve the most relevant datasets, narrow down your search to the smallest subset of interest, visualize the results in the form of interactive maps, and make comparative assessments with just a few clicks. Adding factors like education, age, family composition, employment, and change over time will help deepen your research into these zones.

In East New York, for instance, with a population of 28,000 people per square mile, 37 percent of the population lives in poverty, single parents head 66 percent of households with children, and 19 percent of adults do not have a high school degree.

Adults without a high school degree in East New York, Kings County.
Visit https://www.socialexplorer.com/99ffa4b3d1/view to explore further.


However, there might be more to this story. With Social Explorer’s Opportunity Zones layer on, it is possible to see crucial differences among tracts. You can extract a report and parse the differences in detail.

Social-Explorer-Beta-Maps-Are-Live

In addition to pre-made reports, users can also choose a variety of datasets and filter by multiple variables to generate customized, downloadable data tables in spreadsheets and other formats with zone or county-level comparisons.

Social-Explorer-Beta-Maps-Are-Live

Report of key demographics for Bronx County.


Before falling into decline in the mid-1900s, Newburgh in Orange County, NY, once held its ground as a key shipping and manufacturing hub along the Hudson, while Utica in Oneida County, NY, thrived on textile, furniture, and machinery factories located along the Erie and Chenango canals. Here’s how unemployment levels in Newburgh and Utica now compare to Orange and Oneida counties: 

Examine unemployment statistics in Utica, Oneida County, NY, and Newburgh, Orange County, NY. When compared to the county level (6 percent in Oneida County and 5.6 percent in Orange County) or state level (6.75 percent), unemployment figures for census tracts designated as Opportunity Zones in both Utica and Newburgh are much higher. For instance, unemployment levels in Census Tract 203 in Oneida County, NY, was as high as 27.6 percent.
Visit https://www.socialexplorer.com/56ad0498f7/view to explore further.


On a final note…

While the IRS continues to revise the rules for how the tax breaks will be worked into the federal tax code, the key data points needed to evaluate where investments might be of most value are already available on Social Explorer. From the public official’s perspective, get a sense of what types of investments you want to try to attract to these Opportunity Zones. From the investor’s perspective, explore critical data points and determine the most rewarding opportunities in these zones. Start investigating potential opportunities and plan ahead with Social Explorer.


Author: Amrapali Saha

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