by William Skink
For all the opposition to Trump in liberal bastions like Missoula, money is still more important than ideology, so don’t expect any concern from city officials to be raised over the Opportunity Zone scheme unleashed by Trump’s tax cuts.
While the pie-in-the-sky hope is that the benevolent private sector will bankroll affordable housing projects in Missoula’s Opportunity Zone, it might be instructive to read this Intercept article about Amazon’s recent announced new locations and how opportunity zones will play a role in the changes that will be brought to these regions:
Supporters claim opportunity zones spur renewal and revitalization in impoverished areas. It’s a decades-old bipartisan fantasy that sits uncomfortably at odds with the demonstrated results. Researchers who have studied opportunity zones find that these tax schemes rarely ever help cities, and often financially cripple them.
“At best, they divert investment from one part of the city from another, resulting in no net gain for the city as a whole,” wrote Timothy Weaver, an urban policy and politics professor at the University of Albany, last year. “At worst, they result in tax-giveaways to firms that would have been operating anyway, thereby generating a net loss to city revenues.”
Still, Republicans and Democrats are loathe to give up on what they continually tell themselves can be a win-win for everyone, if we just try really hard. And now a major beneficiary of this federal largesse happens to be one of the world’s richest companies, led by the world’s richest man.
I don’t see much opposition or really even much awareness in Missoula over how these engines of gentrification are ramping up, and how hollow the promises of help for poor neighborhoods really are.
Instead, Missoula’s political leadership (and upstart online media platform) are bordering on the tech solves everything mantra. On Democracy Now, two segments seem relevant to Missoula’s tech-sector obsession. Here’s a snippet of a conversation between Amy Goodman and Ron Kim, member of the New York State Assembly. Kim recently contributed to an opinion piece for The New York Times titled “New York Should Say No to Amazon.”:
AMY GOODMAN: So, New York State Assemblymember Ron Kim, if you could respond to the mayor and also this Business Insider report? Amazon is going to be placed in Long Island City in Queens. “Long Island City real estate brokers told The Wall Street Journal [that] they had witnessed a flurry of inquiries over the past week. Some of these people were even buying units, sight-unseen, via text message, The Journal wrote on Tuesday morning.” “This is the first time in my 20-year career that I have seen the market go from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market overnight, based on a rumor,” said Patrick Smith, a Stribling agent in New York City, a real estate agent. So, if you could respond to both this, what de Blasio is saying, a massive growth in the tech sector and jobs, good jobs, for New York’s kids and students and people in this city, and what’s going to happen to real estate?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I think this is a great example of a misguided technocratic Democrat who is hiding behind big tech and pushing out the narrative to the public that the big tech will solve every single problem in our communities and to humankind. That is not the case. This is a clear example of how big tech artificially raises value. This isn’t real value. As Stacy has said, real value comes from innovation, creativity, small business, local economies, circulation of wealth at the very bottom of our economies. That’s not happening. Amazon, Uber, you name it, all of this is all based on an extraction economy that is designed to extract as much money and value out of our communities, and it’s not going to add to sustainable job growth or economic growth.
For more on the public subsidies Amazon will be getting, here is how another segment from Democracy Now begins:
After a months-long PR campaign, Amazon has officially announced it will split its so-called second headquarters between New York and Arlington, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., after being offered more than $3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives. The news prompted protests at the site of Amazon’s future office complex in Long Island City, New York, to condemn the city and state governments for showering Amazon with massive tax breaks and other giveaways to entice the company to expand into the city. As part of the deal, New York taxpayers will even build a helipad for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is the richest man in the world.
When I wrote Missoula, You Cannot Have It All late last week I was in part reacting to news of City Council scrambling to pass an interim zoning ordinance to accommodate the homeless population the Poverello Center can’t serve.
I am very angry that amidst all this development in Missoula–with condos everywhere, new parks, new schools, a new library, new trails, pedestrian bridges, art parks and play waves–the chronically homeless, who often have substance abuse masking mental health problems, continue to be a forgotten side-note until the cold sets in.
On my Facebook page I expressed my frustration that the lack of action from the Mayor and City Council is a failure to prioritize efforts to keep people from dying on the streets of Missoula. I was offered an opportunity by the Housing Director to get educated on efforts I am not reading about in the paper. I declined.
Instead I’m considering writing an op-ed to educate Missoulians about why this community continues to fail to plug obvious, long-known gaps and how the Mayor’s office is actively down-playing the problem by using numbers that don’t accurately reflect what’s going on.