Dec 13, 2022 - News

Amazon to boost spending for affordable housing in Seattle area

The Inc. building set to house Mary's Place homeless shelter stands under construction in Seattle in 2019. Photo: Chona Kasinger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon announced Monday it will put another $150 million toward affordable housing in the Puget Sound region.

  • Yet the chair of Seattle's housing committee said a great deal more will be needed to address the region's affordability crisis.

Why it matters: It's the latest commitment in Amazon's multimillion-dollar plan to increase affordable housing in a city where the tech giant has often been blamed for fueling gentrification amid rising housing prices.

  • "So many communities in the U.S., including our hometown communities, face significant challenges in securing affordable housing for all, Renée McDonald told Axios via email on behalf of Amazon. "We're grateful for the opportunity to make this commitment ... " 

Details: Amazon's $150 million contribution will develop or preserve about 1,700 affordable housing units, the company said.

  • The low-rate loans and grants from the Amazon Housing Equity Fund will benefit 10 housing projects in Seattle, Renton, Bothell, Tacoma, Federal Way, and Kirkland.
  • For most of the homes, developers and property owners have agreed to keep them affordable for 99 years. They'll be available to individuals and families earning 30–80% of the area's median income, Amazon representatives and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said at the Monday announcement. Seattle's median area income in 2021 was $105,391, according to the Census Bureau.
  • Among the affordable homes being preserved are the 284-unit Renton Sage Apartments and The Arches Apartments, a 25-unit building in Seattle, which were at risk of being closed or sold.

The big picture: Based on the difference between housing need and housing availability, a 2022 housing production report quantified Washington state's shortage at 140,000 units in 2019.

  • In the Seattle metro area, the report estimated a shortage of around 81,000 units in 2019, up from 41,500 in 2012.

Details: This latest announcement brings Amazon's investment in affordable housing in the Seattle area to $500 million, according to Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund director Catherine Buell.

  • Launched in 2021, the fund aims to invest $2 billion in 20,000 affordable homes here as well as in the Arlington, Virginia region and Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Including the projects announced this week, there are 20 affordable housing projects funded by Amazon in the Puget Sound area.

What they're saying: "It's a great add, but we need investments annually," said Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the Finance and Housing Committee. While philanthropic donations are always appreciated, she told Axios, the region needs ongoing revenue that is reliable and allows for sustained investments versus one-off contributions.

  • For example, JumpStart, the controversial but lucrative payroll tax on Seattle's biggest earners, will contribute nearly $300 million over the next two years toward first-time home ownership and affordable rental units, she said. That tax was upheld in court this year.
  • On top of that, she added, the city is directing roughly $200 million more toward affordable housing over the next two years.

What we're watching: Whether Amazon gets more involved in statewide housing and tax policy in 2023 and beyond.


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