Professor Michelle Layser has been awarded a grant of approximately $25,000 from the Campus Research Board at the University of Illinois. The grant will fund a project titled "Evaluating the Impact of Place-Based Investment Tax Incentives on Community Infrastructure." The Board has also designated the project as an Arnold O. Beckman Award, which is given only to projects of special distinction or promise. Layser, an expert on the intersection of tax law and social policy, will conduct the project along with her co-PI, Andrew Greenlee, a professor of urban and regional planning at Illinois.
Layser provided the following overview of the project in her grant proposal:
Place-based investment tax incentives, such as the new Opportunity Zones tax incentive created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, are used to promote economic activity in designated geographic areas, such as low-income neighborhoods. While the most tangible outcomes from such development incentives can be observed through new capital investments in these neighborhoods, such projects are likely to also impact existing infrastructure and institutional networks. This proposal takes an interdisciplinary approach to determining how projects financed through place-based investment tax incentives impact community infrastructure, which we define as physical gathering spaces and inter-personal or inter-organizational communication networks. Community infrastructure theories, which include both social infrastructure theory and communication infrastructure theory, predict that strengthening community infrastructure can help improve health outcomes, reduce crime, and increase the general resilience and wellbeing of communities even when poverty and unemployment levels persist. Such changes are implicit goals of place-based investment incentives, particularly those targeting low-income neighborhoods, but researchers have not described the pathways through which community infrastructure evolves in response to such investment. Using a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with project and neighborhood business and institutional stakeholders, we evaluate whether and how tax-subsidized projects have affected community infrastructure. In addition, our research identifies the types of projects most likely to produce positive outcomes for (low-income) neighborhood residents, and which types of projects present the greatest risk for subsequent speculative market activity, gentrification, and possible displacement. This research has important implications for federal and state tax incentive design and can lead to meaningful reform that improves the lives of low-income people in Illinois and nationwide.