This week, one of the world’s largest and most successful companies, Amazon, announced it would open two new “headquarter” locations in Queens, New York and Arlington, Virginia with a total of 50,000 new jobs. This should be great news, and in fact dozens of cities fought hard to be chosen, pledging billions of dollars of tax breaks and cash. Instead, much like the end of an online binge buying spree, anxiety has been the headline. The reason can be summed up in one word – housing.
During my interview on FOX Business News with Blake Burman, I stressed that Amazon’s investment can be a win-win only if we get the housing right. According to NHC’s Paycheck to Paycheck database, Amazon’s workforce will have to earn at least $105,000 to purchase a modest home in the D.C. area, and earn over $70,000 to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment. Those costs will only get higher unless we invest in more affordable housing. If we don’t, Amazon’s employees will soon find themselves in the same bind they are in Seattle, where most cannot afford to live anywhere close to where they work.
Understandably, the impact 25,000 additional employees will have on traffic and housing has made some residents and elected officials in these two areas very uneasy about Amazon’s plans. Condos in Queens and Arlington are already being bid up by speculators, and affordable housing units have been in short supply for some time. Arlington County had 20,000 privately-owned apartments that were affordable to households earning 60 percent of the area median income or less in 2000. By 2017, there were less than 2,500 of these units on the market as rent increases and redevelopment have both escalated, according to NHC member The Alliance for Housing Solutions, a Arlington-based nonprofit. Significantly increasing affordable housing production is going to be a top priority in these markets and across the country.
It will take consensus, coalition-building and engagement from everyone involved to address the growing rental markets and homeownership. We also need to think holistically about housing. When homeownership rates go down, rents go up. When rents rise, low income renters are squeezed out of the market and some become homeless. In the past four years, the number of unsheltered homeless people in Seattle has doubled.
Amazon has an opportunity to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We hope they are part of the solution. The nation’s leading housing experts will discuss this and the need for other affordable housing production and more at our annual convening, Solutions for Affordable Housing 2018, on Nov. 27-28. Register here.