How Opportunity Zones Can Give Shelter to CRE Investors During the Coronavirus

Blake E. Christian, partner at Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt LLP, has been a practicing CPA for 39 years. In that time, he hasn’t seen a tax provision program as flexible and powerful as Opportunity Zones.


“It’s like a Roth IRA and a 1031 [exchange] combined, but way more flexible,” Christian says.


But with Opportunity Zones, like everything else, people are wondering how COVID-19 will change its business case. At first, Christian was worried that the pandemic would ruin the program as developers stopped doing projects.


But lately, he’s reconsidered his initial concerns. The sell-off in the stock has given investors gains that they need to reinvest. Opportunity Zones are a logical target for them.


“As I look at this, you’ve got devaluing assets,” Christian says. “You’ve got a 10-year investment horizon [with Opportunity Zones]. I think the average investor out there is switching to a longer-term horizon just naturally.


Right now, Christian thinks many investors are “frozen.” “They don’t know what they want to do,” he says. “So, they may want to sit tight for a while.”


Christian says the Opportunity Zone program is perfect for such investors as they can put money into a subsidiary and wait. “If you put two investments into a Qualified Opportunity Zone fund, then you get 62 months to just sit on your hands and decide what you’re going to do,” he says.


In the process of deciding what they’re going to do with their money, investors can use Opportunity Zones to defer their tax hit.


“I’m telling my clients right now that even if you’re not positive they’re going to do a long-term Opportunity Zone fund, they can put their money in there and have access to that cash during that period,” he says. “They can even loan it to related parties. It’s very flexible.”


The Opportunity Zone program touches 8,700 census tracks, but Christian expects the program to expand amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes the government adds another 1,000 census tracks to areas that were hit by COVID-19.


House Republicans have introduced a bill to extend the program from 2026 to 2030 and provide additional opportunities for investors to participate in the Opportunity Zones program.


“There are already bills being considered [to expend the program],” he says. “So there’s not a more perfect platform [than Opportunity Zones] to branch it out with. We have this national program that is already focused on impoverished neighborhoods. You can add other neighborhoods that were annihilated because of the coronavirus.” Christian, a Californian, points to Anaheim, which has suffered from the closing of Disneyland as a place that could potentially use investment. “The hospitality industry has been decimated,” Christian says. “Politicians should be helping those hospitality workers.”