Opportunity Knocks – Treasury releases 2nd set of Opportunity Zone Regulations – Duane Morris LLP

On April 17th the Department of Treasury released a second set of proposed regulations for the Opportunity Zone legislation (the first set of regulations was released in October, 2018) which is intended to encourage economic growth and investment in designated distressed communities (qualified opportunity zones) by providing Federal income tax benefits to taxpayers who invest new capital in businesses located within qualified opportunity zones through a Qualified Opportunity Fund.

The 169 pages of proposed new regulations provide much needed guidance to encourage the future use of the opportunity zone tax benefit and specifically provide guidance for opportunity zone businesses. The following are the highlights of the proposed regulations:

1. Reinvestment of Proceeds from a sale or disposition. A qualified opportunity fund (“QOF”) has 12 months from the time of the sale or disposition of qualified opportunity zone property or the return of capital from investments in qualified opportunity zone stock or qualified opportunity zone partnership interests to reinvest the proceeds in other qualified opportunity zone property before the proceeds would not be considered qualified opportunity zone property with regards to the 90-percent asset test.

2. Real Property straddling an Opportunity Zone and a Non-Opportunity Zone. A business that purchases real property straddling multiple census tracts, where not all of the tracts are designated as a qualified opportunity zones may satisfy the opportunity zone business requirements if the unadjusted cost of the real property inside a qualified opportunity zone is greater than the unadjusted cost of real property outside of the qualified opportunity zone.

3. Safe Harbors for the Fifty Percent (50%) Income Test for Qualified Opportunity Zone Businesses (“QOZBs”). The proposed regulations provide three safe harbors and a facts and circumstances test for determining whether sufficient income is derived from a trade or business in a qualified opportunity zone for purposes of the 50-percent test.

a. The first safe harbor requires that at least fifty percent (50%) of the services performed (based on hours) for such business by its employees and independent contractors (and employees of independent contractors) are performed within the qualified opportunity zone.

b. The second safe harbor provides that if at least fifty percent (50%) of the services performed for the business by its employees and independent contractors (and employees of independent contractors) are performed in the qualified opportunity zone, based on amounts paid for the services performed, the business meets the fifty percent (50%) gross income test.

c. The third safe harbor provides that a trade or business may satisfy the fifty percent (50%) gross income requirement if: (1) the tangible property of the business that is in a qualified opportunity zone and (2) the management or operational functions performed for the business in the qualified opportunity zone are each necessary to generate fifty percent (50%) of the gross income of the trade or business.

d. Finally, taxpayers not meeting any of the other safe harbor tests may meet the 50-percent requirement based on a facts and circumstances test if, based on all the facts and circumstances, at least fifty percent (50%) of the gross income of a trade or business is derived from the active conduct of a trade or business in the qualified opportunity zone.

Note that the seventy percent (70%) tangible property test that requires that seventy percent (70%) of the tangible property of the QOZB be located within the Opportunity Zone continues to be operative for QOZBs.

4. Working Capital Plans – the 31 Month Test. The following two changes were made to the safe harbor for working capital.

a. First, the written designation for planned use of working capital now includes the development of a trade or business in the qualified opportunity zone as well as acquisition, construction, and/or substantial improvement of tangible property.

b. Second, exceeding the 31-month period does not violate the safe harbor if the delay is attributable to waiting for government action the application for which is completed during the 31-month period.

5. Measurement Periods. To help startup businesses the proposed regulations allow a qualified opportunity fund to satisfy the ninety percent (90%) without taking into account any investments received in the preceding 6 months provided those new assets being held in cash, cash equivalents, or debt instruments with term 18 months or less. This flexibility is intended to alleviate concerns with a QOF receiving additional capital gain funds right before a testing period and not being able to deploy the funds prior to the testing period.

6. Exclusion Elections. A taxpayer that is the holder of a direct qualified opportunity fund partnership interest or qualifying qualified stock of a qualified opportunity fund S corporation may make an election to exclude from gross income some or all of the capital gain from the disposition of qualified opportunity zone property reported on Schedule K-1 of such entity, provided the disposition occurs after the taxpayer’s 10-year holding period.

7. Continued OZ treatment after Death. Neither a transfer of the qualifying opportunity fund investment to the deceased owner’s estate nor the distribution by the estate to the decedent’s legatee or heir would result in the loss of the opportunity fund investment benefit.

8. Vacant Property. Where a building or other structure has been vacant for at least five (5) years prior to being purchased by a qualified opportunity zone business or qualified opportunity zone business, the purchased building or structure will satisfy the original use requirement.

9. Leased Property – QOZBs; Original Use; Related Party Permissions; Anti-Abuse Rules. Leased property may be treated a qualified opportunity zone business property if the following two general criteria are satisfied.

a. First, leased tangible property must be acquired under a lease entered into after December 31, 2017.

b. Second, substantially all of the use of the leased tangible property must be in a qualified opportunity zone during substantially all of the period for which the business leases the property.

The proposed regulations, however, do not impose an original use requirement with respect to leased tangible property and do not require leased tangible property to be acquired from a lessor that is unrelated. However, the proposed regulations provide one limitation as an alternative to imposing a related person rule or a substantial improvement rule and two further limitations that apply when the lessor and lessee are related.

a. First, the proposed regulations require in all cases, that the lease under which a qualified opportunity fund or qualified opportunity zone business acquires rights with respect to any leased tangible property must be a “market rate lease.”

b. Second, if the lessor and lessee are related, a qualified opportunity fund or qualified opportunity zone business at any time make not make a prepayment to the lessor relating to a period of use of the leased tangible property that exceeds 12 months.

c. Third, the proposed regulations do not permit leased tangible personal property to be treated as qualified opportunity zone business property unless the lessee becomes the owner of tangible property that is qualified opportunity zone business property and that has a value not less than the value of the leased personal property. This acquisition of this property must occur during a period that begins on the date that the lessee receives possession of the property under the lease and ends on the earlier of the last day of the lease or the end of the 30-month period beginning on the date that the lessee receives possession of the property under the lease.

d. Finally, the proposed regulations include an anti-abuse rule to prevent the use of leases to circumvent the substantial improvement requirement for purchases of real property (other than unimproved land). In the case of real property (other than unimproved land) that is leased by a qualified opportunity fund, if, at the time the lease is entered into, there was a plan, intent, or expectation for the real property to be purchased by the QOF for an amount of consideration other than the fair market value.

It is also worth noting that improvements made by a lessee to leased property satisfy the original use requirement and are considered purchased property. Thus, a tenant in a building can also satisfy the QOZB tests noted under the OZ Act.

10. Intangible Assets. For purposes of determining whether a substantial portion of intangible property of a qualified opportunity zone is used in the active conduct of a trade or business, the term “substantial portion” means at least 40 percent.

11. Unimproved Land. Unimproved land that is within a qualified opportunity zone and acquired by purchase is not required to be substantially improved if it is used in a trade or business of the QOF or the QOZB.

12. Investments Held by Funds. Funds have been provided with additional flexibility to hold more than one investment within a fund if they are structured appropriately.

13. Inventory. Inventory in transit to a QOZB within an OZ will be treated as tangible property that counts for purposes of the seventy percent (70%) test for QOZBs even if it is not within the OZ so long as it is on the way.

14. Debt Financed Distributions. Guidance has been provided under the new regulations regarding refinancing and distributions to partners/members which would permit appreciated portions of the property that have been refinanced to be distributed to the partners or members of the QOF on a tax free basis so long as the distribution is not in excess of the investors basis.

We will continue to review the new regulations and intend to issue additional commentary on it. In the interim, feel free to contact us to discuss any questions you have or transactions you are considering in this space.

Brad A. Molotsky and Art Momjian, Co-Heads, The Opportunity Zone Team – Duane Morris LLP

Treasury Issues Final NMTC Regulations

On September 28th the Department of Treasury issued final regulations modifying the New Markets Tax Credit Program to facilitate and encourage investments in non-real estate businesses in low-income communities. To address the concern that an investment in a non-real estate business would result in a liquidity event for the community development entity prior to the expiration of the 7 year compliance period, the final regulations provide that a CDE may reinvest a qualified low-income community investment during the compliance period in a “qualifying entity” provided that such reinvestment occurs within 30 days. A “qualifying entity” is defined as a certified CDFI or an entity designed by the Secretary of the Treasury. The regulations define a non-real estate qualified active low-income community business as any business whose predominant business activity (measured by more than 50% of the business’ gross income) does not include the development, management or leasing or real estate.

CDFI Fund Encourages Deployment of NMTC proceeds to Underserved States

In its New Markets Tax Credit 2012 Application Q & A issued last week the CDFI Fund identified those states receiving fewer New Markets Tax Credit proceeds in proportion to its state population. The CDFI Fund indicated that the deployment of New Markets Tax Credit proceeds to these underserved states would be considered an innovative us of New Markets Tax Credit Allocation and favored by the CDFI Fund. Since the inception of the New Markets Tax Credit Program, “qualified low-income community investments” have been made in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. However, the CDFI Fund has identified Puerto Rico, along with the following 10 states, as areas that have received fewer dollars of “qualified low-income community investments” in proportion to their statewide population residing in Low-Income Communities: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. The CDFI Fund also considers the Island Areas of the United States (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U. S. Virgin Islands) to have received lower levers of NMTC investment, as these four territories have not received any “qualified low-income community investments.”

CDFI Fund Issues 2012 Application Q and A

The CDFI Fund recently issued a New Markets Tax Credit 2012 Application Q and A. Contained within this document is guidance provided by the CDFI Fund as a result of two conference calls held on July 24th and July 26th 2012 for potential 2012 Round New Markets Tax Credit allocation applicants. The participants on these calls asked for additional clarification on specific questions within the application to which the New Markets Tax Credit Program team responded. Additional guidance and clarification is provided in the Q and A with respect to what the CDFI Fund considers as innovative uses of NMTCs which includes but is not limited to: investing in Unrelated CDEs that do not have a NMTC Allocation; targeting states identified by the CDFI Fund as having received fewer dollars of QLICIs; providing QLICIs in amounts of $2 million or less; revolving QLICIs to serve more QALICBs; and providing non-real estate financing such as working capital or equipment loans. The CDFI Fund also provided examples of uses of NMTCs that would not be considered innovative which include the use of the leverage structure, combining NMTCs with historic tax credits, and investments in real estate (either to real estate QALICBs or non-real estate QALICBs) in states other than the 10 states and territories identified in the Application Q&A.

Finding New Markets Tax Credit Allocation in Strange Places

With the demand for New Markets Tax Credit allocation at a historical high, available New Markets Tax Credit allocation is appearing in strange places. The downturn in the economy has hurt not only conventionally financed projects but also projects financed through government subsidized programs including the Federal New Markets Tax Credit program. Upon the foreclosure of a New Markets Tax Credit subsidized loan, the community development entity lender is obligated to redeploy the proceeds from the foreclosure in a new “qualified low-income community investment” to a new “qualified active low-income community business”. The requirement that a community development entity lender redeploy the proceeds of a previously extended New Markets Tax Credit subsidized loan presents an opportunity to sponsors to “reuse” New Markets Tax Credit allocation for a project. The new loan must satisfy the flexible lending product requirements of community development entity but may not contain a forgivable B note or a 7 year maturity.

Twinning the New Markets Tax Credit

While the Federal New Markets Tax Credit Program and the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program are mutually exclusive – the former available for non-residential property and the latter available for residential rental property – the New Markets Tax Credit may be combined with other federal tax credits such as the Historic tax credit and the Renewable Energy tax credit. In the twinning structure – which is distinct from each tax credit being generated by a separate investment – the equity which generates the Historic or Renewable Energy tax credit is contributed as a qualified equity investment by an investor in a community development entity with an allocation of Federal New Markets Tax Credit authority. The result of twinning is to generate a New Markets Tax Credit on the Historic or Renewable Energy tax credit equity. While the pricing of a twinned credit will be more than the Historic or Renewable Energy tax credit without the New Markets Tax credit enhancement, the benefit may not always be significant when you factor in: (a) added transactional costs as a result of the complexity of the transaction; (b) the payment of the customary fees to the community development entity based on the amount of the “qualified equity investment”; and (c) the limited market of investors for the twinned credit. In a nutshell, a financial analysis of the net benefit of twinning the credits should be performed before pursuing the twinning of two federal tax credits.

New Markets Tax Credit Allocation as Inexpensive Private Equity

While the demand for New Markets Tax Credit allocation is at a historical high the Duane Morris New Markets Tax Credit practice group has been successful in assisting clients identify allocation available from community development entities in which the benefit provided to the sponsor is in the form of a subordinate interest free loan in the amount of the net tax credit equity. This subordinate loan payable in 7 years and may be converted into an equity interest in the sponsor. While this form allocation may not be desirable to non-profit sponsors, the allocation provides for-profit sponsors with what is tantamount to inexpensive private equity. Projects which have the best opportunity to receive this form of New Markets Tax Credit allocation: (a) are located in non-metropolitan census tracts; (b) create significant permanent jobs: and/or (c) are supermarkets in a food desert.

The Future of NMTC Targeted Population Transactions

In 2011 the Service released final regulations which provide how “targeted populations” may be treated as “low income communities” where projects are eligible for the New Markets Tax Credit. Similarly the CDFI Fund amended the form of its allocation agreement to elevate the “targeted populations” criteria to one of its four primary criteria. The result is that satisfaction of the “targeted population” requirements under the Code may alternatively qualify a project as located in a “low-income community” and the satisfaction of the requirements under the allocation agreement may elevate the project to “highly distressed” status. Historically “targeted population” transactions have been challenging because of the added requirements of initially qualifying individuals as “low-income individuals” and insuring that future individuals will qualify as “low-income individuals” during the 7 year tax credit compliance period. While the final Treasury regulations and the revision to the allocation agreement will encourage the use of the “targeted population” criteria, the qualification and compliance requirements of using the “targeted populations” criteria will continue to be a hurdle for both community development entities and tax credit investors for all but the most compelling projects.

New Markets Tax Credit Demand and Pricing on the Rise

The reduction of the annual allocation of New Markets Tax Credit authority by the CDFI Fund from 5 billion dollars to 3.5 billion dollars after the expiration of Stimulus legislation and the increased awareness of the benefits of the Program have created a tremendous demand on community development entities who receive an allocation. of New Markets Tax Credit authority. Sponsors seeking to identify New Market Tax Credit allocation for projects should be aware that community development entities are focused on transactions which result in substantial job creation and supermarkets in designated food deserts. The good news for sponsors is that investors are paying higher prices for New Markets Tax Credits. Accordingly, while it has become more challenging to identify allocation, the equity generated for a project through an allocation of New Markets Tax Credits should be greater than in prior years.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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