Lakeisha Terry has lived in her new house in Columbus' Milo-Grogan neighborhood just over a month, but it already feels like home, with decorative pillows on the couch, place mats on the kitchen counter and a fully furnished bedroom for her two young sons.
The two-story house on Starr Avenue was built by nonprofit builder Homeport, one of 33 rent-to-own homes it recently has constructed in the neighborhood northeast of the booming Italian Village neighborhood and Downtown.
It also is in one of the Opportunity Zones created by the tax law that President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress approved in December. There, new investors in generally economically distressed areas can receive tax breaks.
Ben Carson, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary, toured Terry's home Friday morning, as well as the nearby Milo-Grogan Community Center and Elim Manor, an affordable senior-housing complex on the East Side near the Interstate 70-James Road interchange.
"I'm a big fan of granite," Carson said as he walked through the 23-year-old Terry's kitchen before getting a tour of the backyard and garage.
The two main tax incentives are capital gain-tax deferrals for long-term investments and "opportunity funds" that enable investors to pool money to invest in those communities.
Carson said that money can be invested back into distressed areas to help them thrive economically.
"If it's done the right way, it can bring in business," he said.
Terry, a scheduling coordinator at Ohio State University, pays $725 a month to rent the three-bedroom, rent-to-own house. Along with the 32 others Homeport built recently in the neighborhood, her residence is financed with low-income housing tax credits.
Bruce Luecke, Homeport president and CEO, said it's unclear how Opportunity Zones might help the builder's projects. But he said investors might be drawn to those areas and support Homeport projects. The builder also is renovating 20 to 25 houses in Milo-Grogan.
Steve Gladman, president of the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County, said investors might be attracted to Opportunity Zones, since people always want to defer taxes.
"There are not a lot of regulations yet," Gladman said. "It's a little up in the air."
There are more than 40 Opportunity Zones in Franklin County. The state nominated those zones, which were certified by the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
A lone protester stood outside Terry's house with a megaphone, shouting, "Boo, Ben Carson, boo."