As the influence of tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft have become more pronounced in Seattle and beyond, there’s no doubt that the tech giants have certainly encouraged more employees to move into the city. This has resulted in rising rents around the region — but both Microsoft and Amazon have pledged to do something about it.
Most recently, Amazon has pledged $2 billion toward affordable housing divided between King County, Arlington, VA and Nashville. In total, Amazon is projecting that these funds will help create 20,000 affordable housing units across the three areas in the next five years. The company said it picked these locations to receive funds because they are areas in which Amazon expects to have at least 5,000 employees.
In King County, Amazon is offering $185.5 million in funds — mostly as loans — to the King County Housing Authority. The loans, in addition to about $24 million in grants from Amazon, will allow the housing authority to purchase three apartment buildings in Bellevue and keep the rent affordable for at least 99 years. In total, this will provide 470 apartment units, of which Amazon’s funds will help cover about 45% of the cost of the buildings.
Amazon is also offering $350 million to a nonprofit in Arlington, VA to assist with inclusive and affordable housing in that region as well. The company has not specified how much it will provide in Nashville.
Amazon’s recent philanthropic efforts come after Microsoft pledged $500 million in loans in 2019 for affordable housing efforts. Some of Microsoft’s housing investments were specifically made at below-market interest rates, with profits from the loans then reinvested back into the housing funds. In 2020 Microsoft pledged an additional $250 million for affordable housing development throughout the state.
While these efforts are commendable, to fully address the housing and homelessness problems in the region, consulting firm McKinsey & Company recommends an additional $450 million to $1.1 billion in public spending every year. To provide shelter for everyone who is homeless in King County, the region needs 16,000 more units of affordable housing, and 37,000 new units of affordable housing for everyone who is extremely low income.
Although these statistics are both sobering and illustrative of the size of the problem, having the region’s largest employers invest in local housing is in line with Seattle’s long history of strengthening community through public-private partnership.
This article was originally posted on the Seattle Times by Heidi Groover.