Wealthy Investors Are Still Tapping Trump Tax Break in Pandemic

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Money is still flowing to one of the biggest fund managers tapping a Trump administration tax break for investing in distressed U.S. communities.

Bridge Investment Group said Wednesday that it has raised $1.3 billion to deploy in “opportunity zones,” areas where investors can get generous perks for backing businesses or developing real estate. That’s up from about $950 million the asset manager had at the end of last year.

The two-year-old program, allowing investors in roughly 8,700 census tracts to defer and avoid taxes on capital gains, has become deeply controversial. Supporters say the incentives spur development in areas that badly need it. Detractors argue they help the rich lower their tax bills while investing in projects with little or no benefit to the poor.

As financial markets swooned earlier this year amid a worsening pandemic, some backers of opportunity zones worried that interest in the program would wane. But Bridge’s fundraising haul shows the tax breaks have maintained some allure. Part of the money was raised after government lockdowns to slow the spread of Covid-19, said two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing the private effort.

Total pledges may rise to $2 billion by the end of the year as more investors reach a deadline for deploying capital gains they’ve earned elsewhere into an opportunity zone fund, one of the people said.

“We strongly believe that our operational capabilities closely align with not only the letter of the opportunity zone mandate, but also the spirit of it,” Bob Morse, chairman of Bridge Investment Group, said in a statement.

Bridge -- with about $20 billion under management, development experience and a nationwide footprint -- was among a bevy of real estate players that rushed to start opportunity zone funds. While most of the $1.3 billion raised was committed before the pandemic, the firm now can hunt for bargains with its latest inflows.

Bridge has already gotten discounts of around 10% to 15% on land it’s seeking to develop, and construction costs have come down, one of the people said.

Most of the new funds are slated to go toward multifamily developments, one property type that’s expected to hold up better in the pandemic, the person said. To date, Bridge has invested in more than two dozen projects across 17 cities, including Atlanta, Sacramento, California, and Portland, Oregon.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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