President Donald Trump is establishing a White House council aimed at using public money and existing resources, including the federal Opportunity Zone program, to revitalize low-income communities.
Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will lead the council, which will comprise 13 federal agencies. Other members include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
The body, called the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, will aim to coordinate and focus existing federal programs serving economically distressed areas and "will consider legislative proposals and undertake regulatory reform to remove barriers to revitalization efforts," according to a release.
The newly launched Opportunity Zone program, created as part of the 2017 tax reform legislation, offers tax incentives in exchange for qualified investments in more than 8,000 designated areas nationwide.
Investors have begun pouring money into funds aimed at investing in the zones, and experts say the structure of the tax benefits creates an incentive for them to deploy their capital before the end of 2019. Some observers have suggested that, on average, the benefits of the program for challenged areas will be difficult to detect, but champions of the program say it will help projects in distressed areas compete for funding.
"For decades, job growth and investment have been concentrated in a few major metropolitan areas," Trump said during a signing ceremony. "This has created a geographic disparity, a very big one in many cases, where some cities have thrived while others have suffered chronic economic and social hardship."
Private businesses will invest more than $100 billion in opportunity zones as a result of the tax incentives, he said.
In a report hours before the ceremony, the Associated Press said Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner — both White House advisers — could benefit financially from the program through their personal real estate investments. The White House countered that the Trump administration was not involved in the designation of opportunity zones, which were selected by state governments.