Cutting Edge is a proud recipient of the City of Chicago Community Wealth Building and Technical Assistance Grant, as awarded by Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, the Office of Equity and Racial Justice (OERJ), and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD).
The grant is part of ongoing efforts by the City of Chicago and Community Wealth Building Planning & Pre-Development program to provide critical funding to move community wealth building projects further down the pipeline, many of which face systemic barriers to accessing capital and are stymied by a lack of resources.
Cutting Edge is one of 17 local and national technical assistance organizations selected from 47 applicants to design and implement specialized services. Finalists were selected based on organizational experience & values; program design & implementation strategy; and organizational capacity & budget justification:
Research & Advocacy
Education & Outreach
Financing & Fundraising
Legal & Governance
Assets & Operations
Organizations will receive grants ranging from $150,000 to $380,000 to support the design and implementation of two-year technical assistance programs. Cutting Edge was selected to provide Legal and Governance technical assistance primarily focused on legal guidance on worker-ownership and community investment vehicles such as community investment funds.
“Through these grants and technical assistance programs, the Department of Planning & Development is excited to build the pipeline of community wealth building projects that meet community priorities,” says DPD Commissioner Maurice Cox.
Community Investment Funds (CIFs) can be powerful tools for empowering communities and supporting economic democracy. They do so by investing in new or growing businesses, real estate revitalization projects or other mission driven enterprises within their defined communities. CIFs are community-centered and community-managed (through community leaders, supporting nonprofits or collectively by the larger community). CIFs help build vibrant communities through a cycle of investment, growth, impact, return (to community), and reinvestment.
Community Investment Funds are typically much smaller than mutual funds and are focused narrowly on their impact missions. CIFs are responsive to community challenges and needs and are designed not to extract resources away from the community. CIFs are designed to be exempt from the burdensome and costly regulations to which mutual funds are subject. CIFs can be conceptualized, controlled or housed in nonprofit organizations or they can be set up and managed as for-profit impact funds. Capital can flow into the funds through private or public capital raise strategies. Depending on the exemptions and capital raise strategies employed by the funds, some CIFs can offer investment broadly to the public and allow investors of all means to participate, which in turn can allow for direct community control of the fund.
Cutting Edge has served as legal counsel to many community-centered investment funds, assisting the funds on legal strategy, structure, and capital raise document preparation. We believe that CIFs are an important tool as we move to create a more just and equitable economy. Some of our representative fund clients are listed below along with a short description of their mission and impact.
Black Farmer Fund – The mission of Black Farmer Fund is to nurture Black community wealth and health by investing in Black agricultural systems in the Northeast.
WePower – This for-profit impact fund is structured to invest in Black & Latinx founders and entrepreneurs who participated in an accelerator program offered by the fund’s partner nonprofit.
Community Vision – This charitable loan fund provides capital and technical assistance for communities that have been systematically disadvantaged to ensure fairness in opportunities, resources, and rights for everyone.
Historic preservation projects are designed to protect a community’s heritage often through the expansion and enhancement of historic properties for public use. Community capital is designed to empower a community’s investment in itself through public offerings that are structured to engage a variety of investors. Preservation projects could meet their goals faster and gain additional political and monetary support through the use of community capital raising strategies.
Community investment strategies differ from typical private strategies as they allow investment broadly from community members rather than restricting investment only to the highest net worth individuals or institutions. Community capital does not have to be the only source of capital for a project, but it can have an impact beyond the funds raised.
Community members can be great allies (or in some cases, strong adversaries) to real estate development projects. Restoring or repurposing a historic building is made easier if a developer has both capital and community support. Why not combine the two?
Including community members as investors in projects not only affects the project’s bottom line, but also impacts the level of community acceptance of the proposed purpose and use of the property. With a community capital approach, community members share in the potential return on investment and can become great ambassadors for the project as it wends its way through any approval process, and later as the property opens for its new or improved purpose.
At Cutting Edge, we work to identify, design and build capital raise strategies that meet client goals and strive to involve community stakeholders. Depending on the purpose and scope of the project, community capital raise strategies might include single, or multi-state, direct public offerings, Title III Regulation Crowdfund offerings or larger Regulation A campaigns. Or, a developer or manager can put together a community investment fund that can support various enterprises or projects. These approaches work not only for real estate projects but across a wide range of industries.
Since 2015, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has advocated for tax incentives for those who invest in low-income communities, recognizing that the benefits from the economic recovery have largely bypassed those communities. Their efforts were rewarded when their proposed opportunity zone program was included as Subchapter Z of the2017 tax law overhaulthat was passed in December. While Subchapter Z wasn’t specifically tailored to community capital, it offers tax incentives that will apply to some kinds of community investment funds.
First, here’s how the new law works: A taxpayer with capital gains can defer capital gains tax if they sell their appreciated assets and, within six months, roll over the profits into a “qualified opportunity fund.”
But it gets better. Investors in the qualified opportunity fund who hold their investment for at least 5 years will have their basis bumped up by 10% of the deferred gain (thus reducing their capital gains tax), and by another 5% if they hold it for 7 years. In 2026, there will be a realization event (in which investors are taxed on the other 85% of the original profit invested in the fund, assuming the investment has been held for 7 years). But if they continue to hold their investment for at least 10 years, their basis is bumped up to the market value of their investment, which means any further capital gains tax is eliminated completely.
A qualified opportunity fund is a partnership or corporation with at least 90% of its assets consisting of qualified opportunity zone property (and acquired after 12/31/2017), which can include:
Equity interests in a corporation or partnership that is an opportunity zone business (and issued directly by the corporation or partnership, not acquired in secondary sales); or
Tangible property (real or personal) located in the opportunity zone that is either first used by the fund or is substantially improved by the fund (the latter meaning that additions to its basis exceed its original basis).
A business is an opportunity zone business if:
Substantially all of its tangible property is located in the opportunity zone;
At least 50% of its gross income is derived from operations in the opportunity zone;
A substantial portion of its intangible property is used in its operations in the opportunity zone; and
Securities comprise less than 5% of its total assets by tax basis.
While this new law provides tax incentives to invest in funds that serve low-income communities, it does not provide any new strategies under the securities laws. It is probably inevitable that the vast majority of qualified opportunity funds will be open to accredited investors only, like nearly all private funds.
However, there are at least three strategies that allow a qualified opportunity fund to be open to its entire community, including non-accredited investors:
Real estate fund: A fund whose primary business is investing in real estate and 90% of whose assets consist of real estate in an opportunity zone will be a qualified opportunity fund and will be exempt from the burdensome regulations of the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the “1940 Act”), which paves the way for the fund to raise capital via a direct public offering – making it a true community investment fund.
Small business holding company: This type of fund is exempt from the 1940 Act if most of its assets comprise controlled or majority-owned subsidiaries – the idea being that the fund is in whatever business its subsidiaries are in, rather than in the securities investment business. Again, if 90% of its holdings are businesses in opportunity zones, it will also be a qualified opportunity fund.
Intrastate fund: A closed-end fund of up to $10 million, all of whose investors reside in the same state, is eligible to seek an exemptive order from the SEC that allows it to raise community capital via a direct public offering and while avoiding all or most of the 1940 Act’s regulations. Such a fund could invest in either business or real estate in opportunity zones and thereby also become a qualified opportunity fund.
With any of these strategies, a community-scale fund can open up the opportunity for community ownership of community assets, with everyone able to participate on a level playing field, and everyone able to reap the profits from local ventures.
It should be noted that governors of each state had until late March to designate low-income census tracts as opportunity zones, but some have asked for a 30-day extension. However, only 25% of the low-income communities in each state may actually be designated as opportunity zones. It remains to be seen which communities will actually win that designation.
But community investment funds can be offered to the public in any community anywhere in the U.S. At Cutting Edge Capital we believe community investment funds are an effective way to significantly move the needle toward a more inclusive, democratic and decentralized economy.
If you would like to see this happen in your community, here are some steps you can take:
Look at this map, which shows the census tracts that may be eligible for designation as an opportunity zone.
If your community includes eligible census tracts, write to your governor, asking him or her to designate those tracts in your community as an opportunity zone.
If you would like to see community investment funds serve your community, fill out our intake formto make an appointment with us to explore the kinds of funds that can be offered in your community.
What if your community can come together to fund local ventures? Watch our webinar with Kim Arnone and Brian Beckon to find out how to utilize community investment funds (CIFs). Get an in-depth look at the array of opportunities CIFs offer.
This is an immensely useful webinar for nonprofit organizations, coworking spaces, accelerators/incubators, community organizers, and economic development specialists.
Work for or operate a nonprofit organization, innovation hub, accelerator, or incubator? Are you a community leader or economic development specialist? Do you want to learn about community investment funds and community capital raising? Join Cutting Edge Capital’s webinar onJuly 27th at 11 a.m. PT with Kim Arnone and Brian Beckon to learn in depth about community investment funds and how they can propel your mission and community vision. Click here to save your spot now!
Kim Arnone Vice President, Cutting Edge Capital
Kim specializes in developing community capital raising strategies for social enterprises, cooperatives and nonprofits. She works primarily on investment offerings that can be publicly offered and that are open broadly to community members. Kim has assisted a wide range of enterprises in successfully raising capital; from a worker-owned green waste recycling company to an organic farm, from a rural community development fund to an urban food coop. Kim has been with Cutting Edge for 5 years and has been practicing law for 20 years. She has her Juris Doctorate from Hastings College of Law, where she was editor-in-chief of the Women’s Law Journal. Kim lives, works, and plays in Oakland.
Brian Beckon Vice President, Cutting Edge Capital
Brian is an attorney with over twenty-five years of experience working for nonprofits, start-ups, and publicly-traded companies. As a principal of both Cutting Edge Capital and Cutting Edge Counsel, Brian’s work is now focused on direct public offerings, corporate structuring, and strategies for community capital to help build a more equitable economy. Brian has served as General Counsel for RSF Social Finance, Clean Power Finance, and LendZoan; and before that as Corporate Counsel for Sybase and Catellus Development Corporation. He earned his J.D. from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law and started his legal career with the North Bay law firm of Gaw Van Male. Brian is a member of the California Bar and serves on the boards of the Mount Diablo Music Education Foundation and the Neto Community Network.