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Florida's Most Gentrified Opportunity Zone? It's In Fort Lauderdale

The area around Sistrunk Boulevard and the new Brightline station is South Florida's most gentrified opportunity zone.

When the federal opportunity zones program was announced in 2017, many saw it as a wonderful, win-win tool that would steer development money toward long-depressed areas while providing tax breaks to investors. But others cautioned that it may not work as intended, and that funds would flow toward already-gentrifying neighborhoods rather than to locations that are truly poor and long stagnant. 

“It could be the best thing since sliced bread, or it could be a disaster,” Urban League of Broward County President and CEO Germaine Smith-Baugh told Bisnow in September. “I’m right here on Sistrunk Boulevard. Folks are buying left and right. The foreign dollars coming in to purchase here. It’s unreal.” 

Right on cue, real estate advisory firm RCLCO released a report this week identifying the opportunity zones that have gentrified most in recent years, and therefore are targets for increased investment. Using data about population, race, incomes and education levels, and investment dollars, they prepared the report called Building Opportunity: Mapping Gentrification and Investment across Opportunity Zones.

The authors, RCLCO Vice President Eric Willett and analyst Brett Dunlavey, broke down data in each of the Top 25 metro areas and assigned a score to each zone. Miami ranked as the 14th-most-gentrified metro area. Within that, Broward census tract 416 was the most gentrified, with a score of 73.6. (The most gentrified tract overall was in Brooklyn, New York, with a score of 84.2.) 

This area, located just east of Interstate 95, is bordered to the north by Northwest Sixth Street, aka Sistrunk Boulevard, and to the south by Broward Boulevard. It encompasses part of the historically black community known as Sistrunk and also includes the new Brightline train station. The median income there is $20,543. 

"Unlike most other regions, the most gentrified opportunity zones in the Southeast U.S. are concentrated in suburban areas," the report states. "RCLCO’s analysis found that Miami’s most gentrified neighborhoods are in communities that have already seen tension between long-time residents and newcomers."

The study jibes with what local real estate experts have been saying for months.

At a Bisnow event in November, several panelists mentioned Sistrunk as ripe for development. Affiliated Development co-founder Jeff Burns said that his company had a site at Sistrunk Boulevard and Northwest Third Avenue under contract back in February 2017, where it is developing a 142-unit workforce housing project.

Because the longer an opportunity zone investment is held, the better the tax benefit to investors, and because money must be deployed within certain time frames to reap benefits, he was getting a lot of interest from additional potential investors.  

“We’re shovel-ready,” Burns said. “There’s a lot of money sitting on [the] sideline for this type of product, but not a lot of product that’s ready to go.”