Impact Voices | September 6, 2018

Why impact data and transparency are keys to the success of opportunity zones

Fran Seegull
Guest Author

Fran Seegull

Assets in impact investing continue to surge, buoyed by increasing investor interest in aligning financial goals with social and environmental objectives. Today such assets represent as much as one in five of all U.S. assets under professional management.

How do we know this? We have the data to back it up.

Data is integral to the success of any program, product or policy, and to the continued functioning of the financial markets. Data shows us where capital is flowing and how that capital is being used; it tells us a story about where there are structural barriers and where there are opportunities. Data allows all stakeholders—from fund managers and investors to community members and policymakers—to have a shared understanding about what works and what doesn’t.

Community development lenders attract new investors to low-income neighborhoods

It is with this vision in mind that the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance today wrote Secretary Mnuchin to urge the Treasury Department to make collection of basic opportunity fund data and metrics a priority as they roll out proposed regulations for opportunity zones—the latest piece of legislation designed to drive private capital towards investments in distressed U.S. communities.

Our letter highlighted several metrics that we believe should be reported to Treasury, at a minimum, on an annual basis, including information about the size, location and nature of investments into opportunity zones. We also encouraged the collection of additional impact-oriented data points, such as the number of jobs created, the number of people lifted out of poverty or the number of new businesses started, to more accurately assess the impact of each opportunity zone investment.

There is already a groundswell of excitement around opportunity zones, with many investors beginning to analyze designated communities for potential investible opportunities. At the same time, the people who live and work in these communities are trying to understand how they should be engaged for opportunity zones to succeed as both investments and as public policy.

Community development lenders attract new investors to low-income neighborhoods

Fostering and facilitating that engagement will require a common framework for understanding the impact of opportunity zone investments. Communities and investors alike will need such tools to evaluate both the financial and impact prospects of any potential opportunity fund investment

A significant number of industry leaders and advocates have already come out strongly in support of impact transparency in opportunity zones. These leaders include the heads of the Economic Innovation Group, Enterprise Community Partners and LISC, prominent impact investors like Jim Sorenson, and private philanthropies like the Kresge and Rockefeller Foundations.

And in a recent meeting co-hosted by the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance with the New York Federal Reserve and Beeck Center at Georgetown, attendees from policy shops, universities, community development finance institutions, foundations and fund managers underscored how important transparent data is to a well-functioning market. Our comment letter today builds on this ongoing conversation. The common-sense reporting that we are asking for will help communities, investors and policymakers work together to build this market.

Opportunity zone advocates call for market transparency and impact accountability

The impact investing movement owes its growth and success to industry leaders reporting data and sharing best practices. For opportunity zones to experience a similar surge in interest and capital, and to generate the kind of transformative impact in low-income communities that its creators envisioned, it is vital that Treasury embrace basic data reporting and transparency for opportunity zones.

Fran Seegull is the executive director of the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance.