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Mnuchin, The White House Intervene To Secure Opportunity Zone Tax Breaks... To Benefit Wealthy Allies

On Friday, Trump again tried to tout his tax law’s opportunity zone tax break as a boon to low-income and minority communities. In reality, the tax break has only amounted to another handout to wealthy investors, and the Trump administration has even directly intervened to ensure bigger tax breaks for their friends and donors. 

Mnuchin personally intervened to secure an opportunity zone tax break for a wealthy investor, fraudster and longtime friend.

New York Times: “Last year, after pressure from Mr. Milken’s business partner and other landowners, the Treasury Department ignored its own guidelines on how to select opportunity zones and made the area eligible for the tax break, according to people involved in the discussions and records reviewed by The Times. The unusual decision was made at the personal instruction of Mr. Mnuchin, according to internal Treasury Department emails. It came shortly after he had spent time with Mr. Milken at an event his institute hosted.”

The White House intervened to help a major inaugural donor win a lucrative opportunity zone tax break.

ProPublica: “In February 2018, as the selection process was underway, a top Michigan economic development official asked her colleague to call Quicken’s executive vice president for government affairs about opportunity zones. ‘They worked with the White House on it and want to be sure we are coordinated,’ wrote the official, Christine Roeder, in an email with the subject line ‘Quicken.’ The exact role of the White House is not clear. But less than two weeks after the email was written, the Trump administration revised its list of census tracts that were eligible for the tax break. New to the list? One of the downtown Detroit tracts dominated by Gilbert that had not previously been included. And the area made the cut even though it did not meet the poverty requirements of the program.” 

ProPublica: “In the last few years, Gilbert, the 57-year-old founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has also grown close to the Trump family. Quicken gave $750,000 to Trump’s inaugural fund. Gilbert has built a relationship with Ivanka Trump, who appeared at one of his Detroit buildings in 2017 for a panel discussion with him. And, last year, he watched the midterm election returns at the White House with President Donald Trump himself, who has called Gilbert ‘a great friend.’”

Some of the biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s opportunity zone tax break meant for low-income communities have included his family and advisers.

New York Times: “Among the early beneficiaries of the tax incentive are billionaire financiers like Leon Cooperman and business magnates like Sidney Kohl — and Mr. Trump’s family members and advisers.  Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey; Richard LeFrak, a New York real estate titan who is close to the president; Anthony Scaramucci, a former White House aide who recently had a falling out with Mr. Trump; and the family of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, all are looking to profit from what is shaping up to be a once-in-a-generation bonanza for elite investors.” 

Opportunity zone tax breaks across the country have benefitted wealthy developers while failing to help low-income residents.

Arizona Republic: “An Arizona Republic analysis of opportunity zones in Maricopa County found that while some of the areas could use help, others are thriving and likely would draw developers without the tax break.  The costs and benefits of the program will be tough to track. Investors and builders aren’t required to publicly disclose whether they take the tax break. Mark Stapp, a real estate expert and director of the Masters of Real Estate Development program at ASU, questions whether what he calls an ‘ill-defined’ program will benefit the areas that need it most.  ‘It has a big public cost with the taxes not collected, and no real requirement for public good,’ Stapp said.”

WNYC: “The new law has a provision meant to spur investment into underdeveloped areas, called ‘opportunity zones.’ The idea is to grant lucrative tax breaks to encourage new investment in poor areas around the country, carefully selected by each state’s governor.  But Port Covington, an ambitious development geared to millennials to feature offices, a hotel, apartments, and shopping, is not in a census tract that is poor.” 

Pew Trusts: “But change is coming to Elyria-Swansea in the form of a hotel and conference center, high-end office space and ‘luxury, urban-style residences.’   Investors in all three real estate projects could enjoy a hefty federal tax break for investing in a low-income neighborhood — even though it’s not clear whether such projects will help current low-income residents, or whether they’re the leading edge of gentrification that will eventually push longtime residents out.”



Another Bad Week For Americans With Carson Leading HUD

This week, Ben Carson defended illegally delaying federal housing funding for Puerto Rico and complained about “political correctness” when given a chance to apologize for his past transphobic comments. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is making it harder for families to fight discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. In short, it was a very bad week for Americans with Ben Carson leading HUD.

Ben Carson and HUD officials defended missing a legally required deadline to provide Puerto Rico federal housing funds allocated by Congress after Hurricane Maria.

NBC News: “The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, defended his agency for knowingly missing a legally required deadline that would have kicked off a monthslong process to help Puerto Rico get billions in federal housing funds Congress allocated after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.  Carson justified HUD’s actions after Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., asked him ‘where in federal law is HUD empowered to withhold money that was supposed to go to Puerto Rico’ during a congressional hearing on Tuesday.”

New reports show that the administration’s proposal to roll back disparate impact claims will make it hader to fight housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

The Guardian: “The Trump administration has proposed a shift in rules that would make it ‘nearly impossible’ for Americans to sue for housing discrimination caused by algorithms, according to tech scholars and civil rights groups. Absolving companies of wrongdoing when algorithms are involved could have a major effect on the housing market, which often relies on automation – in the form of background checks, credit score analysis, and analyzing an applicant’s history – to decide whether to rent or sell someone a home. The new ruling would raise the bar for legal challenges against housing discrimination, making cases brought against landlords and lenders less likely to succeed.” 

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “The rule would dramatically change the standards by which a person or entity, including the federal government, can sue to end discriminatory housing practices through what is known as a ‘disparate impact’ claim, thereby weakening the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a Civil-Rights-Era federal law protecting people who have historically experienced racism and discrimination that limit their housing options.” 

When asked to address past transphobic comments, Ben Carson refused to apologize and responded by saying that political correctness would “destroy our nation.”

CNN: “Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said Tuesday that political correctness is ‘going to destroy our nation,’ when pressed by a Democratic lawmaker to apologize for comments he reportedly made at a meeting in September.  At a House Financial Services Committee hearing on housing policy, Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia said she wanted to give Carson a chance to apologize for comments made during a meeting last month with department staff in which he expressed concern about ‘big, hairy men’ attempting to enter women’s homeless shelters.”



La administración de Trump comenzará el envío de solicitantes de asilo a Guatemala

Tan pronto como esta semana, la administración del Presidente Donald Trump comenzará el envío de solicitantes de asilo a Guatemala como parte de su convenio que designa a Guatemala como un ‘tercer país seguro’. Esto es otro ejemplo de cómo esta administración trata cruelmente a las personas que intentan solicitar asilo. 

Aunque la administración intente decir que esto es un procedimiento más seguro, la realidad es que no lo es y pudiese terminar forzando hasta más solicitantes de asilo hacia el norte. 

Telemundo: “Sin embargo, muchos críticos aseguran que no es realista esperar que los gobiernos de la región puedan brindarles seguridad a los migrantes cuando ellos mismos están luchando contra la criminalidad y la pobreza.” 

Univision: “Los acuerdos han sido duramente criticados al considerar que esos tres países no pueden brindar seguridad a los migrantes que ya de por sí vienen huyendo de contextos de violencia y pobreza extrema. Las cifras de homicidios ubican a sus capitales como algunas de las más peligrosas de la región.”

Foreign Policy: “Trump puede intentar, de manera temporera, evitar que los solicitantes de asilo lleguen a la frontera, su estrategia terminará intensificando la inseguridad, la pobreza y la inestabilidad que continuará llevando a los inmigrantes hacia el norte.”

El convenio acordado fue el resultado de amenazas de sanciones económicas de parte de Trump.

Univision: “Justo cuando Morales le dio el visto bueno, lo hizo argumentando que era una medida para evitar las sanciones económicas anunciadas por Trump si se rompía la negociación entre ambos países. La firma se dio luego de una escalada de amenazas de Trump con castigos como la prohibición de viajes a los guatemaltecos, la aplicación de un impuesto a las remesas y la imposición de una tasa de aranceles a todos los productos guatemaltecos exportados a Estados Unidos.”

The Washington Post: “El Presidente Trump suspendió la asistencia a Guatemala, Honduras y El Salvador esta primavera, en el medio de un aumento histórico en la cantidad de familias de esos países que viajaban hacia la frontera en grupos y caravanas. Él anunció que parte de la asistencia se restauraría este mes cuando los tres países acordaron aceptar a solicitantes de asilo.”

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