Like most Seattleites, I have a complicated relationship with Amazon. In the pro column, the company has been the driving…
Like most Seattleites, I have a complicated relationship with Amazon.
In the pro column, the company has been the driving force behind our city’s recent Renaissance. During the eight years since Amazon began to add tens of thousands of jobs, Seattle has achieved the country’s second highest per capita income and its 11th fastest job growth . We host a disproportionate share of America’s best restaurants. The influx of technology workers and tax revenues has led to an increase in public spending . Our buses go more often than ever, our lighting system is increasing and our parks are so well-kept that we sometimes forget that we can only enjoy them for three months of the year.
In the “con” column, however, it is the unquestionable fact that the town boom has come to the rear of its poorest inhabitants. The influx of the population ̵
1; Seattle grew more in the last seven years than it did in the last 30 years – has pushed housing prices upwards turns homeowners into millionaires and tenants to refugees. Our homelessness crisis is so bad that the mayor has declared it an emergency . Our public schools run the biggest deficits since the 1970s . Anyone who wants new restaurants? Like many other old Seattle townies, I can not afford a meal at most.
But the most important thing to know about what happened to Seattle is that it’s not all Amazon’s mistakes. Each effect of the company’s expansion was both predictable and preventable.
This week, Amazon announced that its second headquarters, known as HQ2, would be shared between New York City Queens City and “National Landing”, a complete name for an existing Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. The company is committed to injecting at least 25,000 new jobs and billions in investment in each site.
It will be disturbing, but it does not have to be catastrophic. Amazon is a giant, amoral, profit driven behemoth. There is nothing that its new hosts can do about it. What they can do, however, are pass laws that ensure that the company’s effects are positive.
There is no such thing as a good or bad business; There are only good and bad laws that regulate them. Here are some of the things that Seattle did when we became a business city and others as some of us wish we would have done before.
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Amazon’s Seattle campus.
The logic behind New York and Virginia’s massive subsidies for Amazon ($ 48,000 and $ 22,000 per job) is that the company will have a multiplier effect that forming clusters of technology and service workers around their campus.
There is even evidence that this will happen as legislators want it. A 2017 study of more than 300 cities found that every new high-tech job created five more in supportive industries. However, the study found that the majority of these additional jobs were not in high-tech sectors. Each high-paid and high-tech position created three jobs in “non-professional” professions. What it means to the HQ2 cities is that, along with five numbers of software developers, they can find up to 75,000 new waiters, chefs, hairdressers, cashiers and caretakers.
Virginia minimum wage is $ 7.25 one hour. Neither the state nor the city of Arlington, where the bulk of Amazon’s investment will go, has policies that guarantee paid sick leave or family leave for workers. If National Landing does not improve basic working conditions, the primary effect of Amazons investment will be to create an army of poor, insecure workers. If Amazon, a massively listed company, can guarantee its employees a minimum wage of $ 15 per hour, Virginia has no excuse not to match it.
Fortunately, things look a bit better in New York. The city has already paid sick leave and family leave and a minimum wage heading for $ 15 per hour. However, when the city falls down, it is enforced. A 2017 evaluation found a brutal evidence of informal work, pay tribute and sexual harassment, especially among female workers and immigrants. Nearly 20 percent of the employees who hired food that were employed as “contingent workers” said they were paid below the minimum wage.
Many of the Amazon workers hiring for their HQ2 seats will enjoy six-figure salaries in addition to luxury benefits packages. If the new host cities want to make the most of the company’s investments, the least they can do is to break down human exploitation, clothes and cleaning of their workers’ homes.
Washington Post via Getty Images
A residential area just a few blocks from Amazon’s proposed new campus in Arlington, Virginia.
One of the painful, forgotten truths in municipal policy is that cities do not decide how big their populations will be. Amazon did not ask Seattle permission to expand with 35,000 workers 2010. The 114,000 people who moved here for the past eight years did not apply for a visa. Everything just … happened.
But even if cities do not control their own growth, they control how they respond to it. Since Amazon began its rapid expansion, Seattle has built around a new home for each of three new jobs. It makes us superstars compared to San Francisco, where the ratio is 1 to 8 but there is still nowhere to cater to the need.
The result is almost a decade of relentless but most invisible gentrification. While lots of glass and steel towers have gone up in the center, the vast part of the city is preserved in amber by zone regulations that make it illegal to build anything other than McMansions. It has not prevented technical workers from moving here, but it has pitted them against each other in inviting war for the homes already here. According to their Zillow application, the two Microsoft employees who moved to my last apartment – decided to move out after two years with 10 percent rent increases – have a total income of $ 248,000 a year. The appearance of my neighborhood did not change, but the realm of its inhabitants did.
Amason’s new host cities should not make the same mistake. Even before the company announced its new host cities, Arlington had a housing shortage steep rising prices and a local debate on whether to remove restrictions on building apartments. Over the river, Washington’s lack of affordable prices is well documented and the city is already behind the estimated 690,000 units of homes it needs in 2045 to just stick to growth.
Queens, as part of a city that is a bit more comfortable with skyscrapers, looks better at this result. The HQ2 site in Long Island City has already built more homes than any other New York neighborhood since 2010. Still, since Amazon’s announcements call for construction and slowing a planned redeployment intensified ].
Local residents are worried. The neighborhood is already suffering from rapid gentrification, and Amazons buildings are located just next to the country’s largest public residential area . The mayor and governor’s unthinkable reason to invite Amazon is to lift local residents, not to displace them with luxury apartments.
But if Seattles experience shows something, refusing to build new homes will not reduce the gentrification pressure. It will intensify them. Amazon workers, like everyone else, want to live close to their jobs. If the city is built as long and as close as possible, new apartments can serve as an outlet valve for influx of new demand. If the city refuses – as San Francisco has for decades – rich technicians simply will buy or rent all properties already there.
Nobody likes a lot of cozy new apartment tower that goes up next to it. But in the past two years, as Seattle has added them to the dozen, the rents have finally been leveled. We have also added fees on developers who pay into a fund to maintain affordable housing. There is still a long way to go, but the city is an object lesson in the principle that you can build you out of a housing crisis – even if what you build is not always beautiful.
Elaine Thompson / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Protestor at a meeting in Seattle City Council. Earlier this year, the city passed a law that would have taxed large companies, including Amazon, to fund homelessness services. The law was canceled after Amazon financed a campaign against it.
King County, where Seattle sits, has the third largest homeless population in the United States. Nearly 50 percent are unshielded.
Last year, city officials passed a modest tax on large companies to scale up the city’s response to the crisis. Almost immediately, Amazon officials threatened to stop the company’s expansion and move thousands of jobs to other cities. Then, when the City Council did not resign, collaborated with Starbucks to finance an attempt to cancel the fee through a voting initiative.
It worked. Towards a deeply-advertised campaign, the City Council changed its decision and repealed the Act . Somehow, two of the world’s largest companies convinced voters that mandatory contributions to solving the problems that they (partly) helped to cause were a bridge too far. Two months later, Amazon’s president Jeff Bezos announced that he donated $ 2 billion, or about 1.2 percent of his personal wealth, to end homelessness and support early childhood education. He refused, however, to indicate which charities he would give to or how much a year.
It’s an obvious lesson, but one as a city leader must constantly remind: Businesses are not your friends. Amazon has neither a moral conscience nor a mandate for social responsibility. It’s simply a company that, like everybody else, always puts its shareholders happy to take care of their community.
City officials must keep this basic fact on the front of their minds. Amazon’s press release this week highlighted “community investment” as it would do on each of its websites. In New York, it will reserve office space for elementary school and the artists’ workspaces. In Virginia, it will donate funds to improve pedestrian, airport and subway infrastructure.
However, as Seattle’s experience over the past year shows, these societal investments are voluntary, contingent and less than the effects the company will have. Any attempt by the city to squeeze more funding from the company – or make its commitments mandatory and ongoing – will invite massive backlash, including disinformation campaigns and cynical political status.
New York and Virginia already have progressive income taxes, which means they are better placed than Seattle to make Amazons investment in higher tax revenues. But in the future, as the company calls for municipal infrastructure and political will, city leaders will need automated systems to force the company to chip in to mitigate its effects. And if politicians forget this obligation, their voters must remind them.
So take it from Seattle, HQ2: Amazon will not be good for you or bad for you. It will be both. And it’s still up to you to decide the balance.