” Elyria-Swansea is a short bike ride from the epicenter of Denver’s brewery-hopping and co-working scene, but it feels farther away. Here modest mid-century bungalows and Victorian houses boxed in by chain-link fences press up against train tracks, Interstate 70, marijuana grow houses and a pet food factory that pumps musty smells into the air.
The neighborhood remains affordable in a city where housing costs have skyrocketed. Denver rents are up 75% over the past decade, according to the city’s housing team, and about a third of households are spending more than a third of their income on housing. More people are living on the street or in homeless shelters — almost 4,000 of them, according to the latest count this January.
But change is coming to Elyria-Swansea in the form of a hotel and conference center, high-end office space and “luxury, urban-style residences.”
Investors in all three real estate projects could enjoy a hefty federal tax break for investing in a low-income neighborhood — even though it’s not clear whether such projects will help current low-income residents, or whether they’re the leading edge of gentrification that will eventually push longtime residents out.
“A lot of what’s happening in our neighborhood hasn’t been designed for the people there,” said City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, a progressive Democrat who represents the mostly Hispanic area. To her, the tax break is just the latest example of urban renewal, the federal policy of the 1950s and 1960s that gave cities money to raze blighted areas but ended up displacing more than a million people.
“It’s a new iteration of something that’s existed over and over throughout time to really colonize areas,” CdeBaca said.
Congress created the opportunity zone tax break in 2017 to encourage investors to pump money into over 8,000 struggling census tracts selected by states.
But unlike other programs intended to help poor communities, the tax break has no strings attached. The law’s architects reasoned that if investors weren’t constrained by job creation requirements and other conditions, they’d be more likely to invest in the zones.”
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Quinton, Sophie. PEW 25 September 2019.