- Amazon will donate a collective $8 million to homelessness mitigation and affordable housing in its two headquarters' regions: Seattle and Arlington County, VA.
- Seattle's Plymouth Housing will receive $5 million and the Arlington Community Foundation will receive $3 million. The money will help to increase housing access for people in need of affordable housing or experiencing chronic homelessness.
- Through the end of September, the company also will match employee donations, up to $5 million, to 20 charities in the Seattle and Arlington regions that address affordable housing and homelessness.
Tech companies have taken a lot of heat in recent years for the impact their growth has on cities. While an influx of high-salaried employees can result in a city's revitalization, it also induces cost-of-living spikes, a decrease in housing affordability and an increase in homelessness.
Amazon has fielded plenty of criticism for its contribution to Seattle's housing crunch, and was instrumental in pushing the repeal of a new head tax last year that would have paid for affordable housing and homeless services.
Seattle is widely considered one of the ground zero cities for the current housing crisis creeping across the country, and city leaders have been acting to reverse the negative housing trend. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan sent affordable housing legislation to the city council last month to complement the executive order she signed in February to create more low- and middle-income housing. In 2015, former Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency over homelessness and promised more spending and services to mitigate the problem.
The same day Amazon circulated the news of its donation to Plymouth Housing, the nonprofit announced a large plan to build 800 residences to combat Seattle's homelessness. Plymouth Housing's goal is to complete the first five buildings within four years.
Watching what has happened in other cities begs the question of whether Amazon's expansion into new areas will raise housing issues there as well. This year the company announced it's opening new offices in Austin, TX and Denver and adding 800 and 400 jobs, respectively. Those two cities already are suffering from their own housing capacity and affordability issues, having both come in the top five on a list of 15 cities on the verge of a housing crisis. Nashville, TN — Amazon's choice for a new 5,000-person operations center — also made that list.
Amazon will also have a large presence in Arlington once its second headquarters (HQ2) opens there, and housing issues already exist there. The Arlington Community Foundation noted in a statement that Arlington County lost nearly 90% of its market affordable housing during the past 20 years. It's unlikely that trend will reverse without targeted action.
As tech companies face increased scrutiny over their role in negative housing trends, they're donating large sums of money to improve their home base cities — and they're vocal about doing so. For example, earlier this year Microsoft committed $500 million to addressing the Seattle area's housing problems.