Online retail giant Amazon.com Inc. has pledged more than $2 billion to create and maintain affordable housing in three of its employment hubs: Seattle, Nashville and Arlington, Virginia, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Over the next five years, Amazon’s pledge will be enacted through low-cost loans to preserve or create affordable housing as well as grants distributed to public agencies and minority-led housing organizations.
The company currently has more than 75,000 workers located in Seattle, and 1,000-person work forces each in Arlington and Nashville, both of which it plans to build up to 5,000 employees over the next five years.
“We don’t have control over how the [housing] markets respond to a large employer coming into the market or expanding in the market, but we can play a role in how Amazon’s growth is impacting our local communities,” Catherine Buell, head of community development for one of Amazon’s philanthropic arms, told the Journal. “Particularly as we’re expanding our corporate presence, we’re working to get ahead of the issue as much as we can.”
Amazon’s pledge comes on the heels of several other similar commitments from tech companies made in 2019, including a $1 billion pledge from Alphabet Inc. toward Bay Area housing and a pledge of the same amount from Facebook for affordable housing in the Silicon Valley area, among others.
According to a person familiar with the program, Amazon does not stand to make a profit from such investments, nor is there any special tax treatment associated with them.
Although Amazon’s investment in affordable housing and ones like it are a step in the right direction, housing advocates like Managing Director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies Chris Herbert say that the affordable housing crisis will require policy changes and government spending in order to create an impactful solution.
“It’s going to take a much larger investment of resources to address the problem at a scale that’s needed,” Herbert told the Journal.
For this pledge, Amazon will preserve or create over 20,000 units that will be affordable to those households that make between 30 to 80 percent of each city’s median income. The company anticipates roughly half of those units will be derived from either preservation efforts or from converting market-rate rentals into affordable units.
Thus far, Amazon has given $380 million in loans and grants to help the Washington Housing Conservancy acquire a multifamily property in Arlington not far from the planned site of Amazon’s second headquarters, dubbed “HQ2.” (JBG Smith Properties, a real estate investment trust, also invested in the initiative.) Amazon has also pledged $185 million in loans and grants to go toward an initiative by the King County Housing Authority to preserve roughly 1,000 apartment units in and around Seattle.
In November, Amazon also committed $9 million to nonprofits in and around the greater Washington, D.C. metro area to mark the two-year anniversary of the company’s announcing Arlington, Virginia, as its location of its HQ2.