U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is in Mississippi to promote a program he says provides hope and opportunity to distressed communities. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.
Several hundred people are in Jackson for the Southeastern Regional Opportunity Zones Summit. U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is promoting the program. It provides tax incentives to investors to create businesses and affordable housing in distressed communities nationwide.
"For every person that we get off of dependency it's one less person we have to support and one more tax paying productive member of society who may discover a new energy source," said Carson.
Mississippi has 100 Opportunity Zones. Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs says his city was the first in the nation to use the program. He says last year a lumbermill was about to close. But they were able to find an investor willing to operate the business and 125 jobs were saved.
"It allowed him to use his tax credit in lieu of cash dollars to do the deal and then on top of that we subsidized it by putting local money in it too," said Flaggs.
The program fosters collaboration between non-profits, local leaders and investors to obtain funding for projects. Flaggs says they're working with an investor now to build affordable housing. Scott Spivey is with Mississippi Home Corporation, the non-profit responsible for approving investor applications.
"If we're putting these economic development deals together community development and affordable housing are going to have to come with it. It's going to have to be a more wholistic solution in order to really take this chance we have to make a difference with these opportunity zones," said Spivey.
A new website, opportunityzones.gov, is up and running.