Amazon announced this week that it will commit one of its buildings to housing 200 Seattle homeless for the next year allowing a nonprofit organization to oversee the facilities. The former Travelodge motel faces demolition as part of the company’s tremendous growth in the city’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

Let’s Commend Amazon

It’s important to applaud the company and CEO Jeff Bezos, traditionally a libertarian, for stepping up to help address this enormous problem facing more than 4,500 Seattle citizens. This is a huge step, unprecedented in the company’s history and worthy of genuine appreciation and recognition.

Amazon’s amazing expansion has transformed Seattle in just the last five years. It’s sustained the economic stability of the city through the 2008 banking crash and led the dramatic growth that most could never have imagined. The rapid changes are truly incredible. However, one of the greatest consequences of this has been the rising cost of housing and dramatically increasing homelessness. The Seattle Times recently reported that 86% of the homelessness are from here.

How fast is this happening? Here’s a recent flyover of the buildings built and planned in South Lake Union by 2020.

Here you can see before and after slide-over images of many blocks in the neighborhood.

Zillow says, “the median rental price in Seattle climbed 7.22 percent to $1,946 a month.” Last week two houses across from mine sold in less than seven days, one for $105,000 over list. The region’s transportation agency, Sound Transit, reports our region added 52,000 people and 41,000 cars last year. Basically, many longtime Seattle residents are being forced out of their homes, either to move north or south or in some cases, into the streets.

You may remember last month’s Seattle #manintree who gained national notoriety — he was homeless. The mayor has declared a homelessness emergency. More than 45 people died on the streets in 2015. Half of last year’s six female homicide victims were also homeless. Heroine related deaths in King County are at a 20 year high. Neighborhoods are up in arms about homeless drug use, crime and people living in cars (here’s one Seattle woman who moved into an RV to cut expenses).

John Schoettler, Amazon’s director of global real estate and facilities said, “We had a building that’s not being utilized and we had a crisis in our city. It’s an opportunity for Amazon to be a good neighbor and do the right thing.”

Let’s celebrate Amazon’s sudden engagement but also ask it to join the conversation local residents are all having. Why do we have such a large and growing homeless problem? What role will taking 200 homeless (.04 percent) off the streets play? And, what will the company do when it begins demolishing the shelter?

The Driving Forces Behind Seattle’s Homelessness

Essentially, there are three key aspects to the rise in homelessness in Seattle:Become a WP Engine Affiliate

  1. There’s no rent control which would allow thousands of residents to remain where they are, limit the supply of available rental units and force technology firms to more carefully measure the pace of new hires here. Instead the demographics of the city are being quickly turned upside down.
  2. There’s no regulation requiring developers to apportion a considerable percentage of new units to lower and middle income families. City and state officials have no political appetite for this. All the options are voluntary and completely insufficient to date.
  3. There’s limited funding for the government to supply affordable units because Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the country. And, there’s not enough money to house the homeless let alone offer them sufficient humanitarian care.

I want to commend Bezos and Amazon for this incredibly unique offering and a step forward in the right direction. However, I have to ask, will you now help us lead the conversation towards policy changes?

Corporate titans such as Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon that traditionally have dodged state taxes and hold revenue offshore could pay more tax here. The construction that continues at record pace to house their newly arrived employees could be required to include a portion of affordable units. And, emergency rent control could stem the tide of current residents being forced to leave and move further away or into the streets.

The Seattle Times reports the company “…hopes it can offer another site for a shelter” when construction on the motel begins. Kudos for what you’ve done here Amazon. Please consider doing more.

Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest.

One Comment

  1. If Amazon customers could pay sales tax to fund vouchers to house and feed the homeless, and send them to school, to learn a trade, would that help form a more perfect union or is it be too enabling?


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