The Amazon HQ2 race: the corporate occupation of Seattle led to skyrocketing poverty and homelessness
Amazon has a market capitalization of $474 billions dollars and currently has about $22 billion of cash on hand. This summer, Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13 billion in cash. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, has a net worth of $85 billion. Amazon is in no way a company that needs financial help. So why are cities, including Chicago, falling all over themselves to give Amazon financial aid for a second headquarters and would this aid help the majority of people in Chicago–or any other city?
In order to know more about how Amazon will impact a city like Chicago, it’s useful to look at Seattle, where Amazon has had a headquarters since 1994. In Seattle, Amazon is king, occupying 20 percent of commercial property. The largest employer in Seattle, Amazon’s HQ employs 40,000 mostly high-income earners.
In the last 15 years of its occupation of Seattle, average rent in the Seattle area has skyrocketed from $650 a month to over $1,600 a month. In Seattle, average rents are $2,100 a month. The Amazon HQ has literally made Seattle an unaffordable city for the vast majority of people who live in the United States.
Unsurprisingly, Seattle has a large homeless population. The Seattle metro area has the third largest homeless population in the country despite being the 15th largest metro area. In Seattle, 3,000 people a month are newly homeless. In 2015, the mayor declared a state of emergency over homelessness in order to secure state funds and additional authority.
Despite being number one in the nation for new apartment constructions, apartment prices in Seattle are still some of the most expensive in the country. Most of these new apartments go to young tech workers, who are living on their own. Landlords were favoring tech workers as tenets and passing over other potential renters so much, the city had to pass an ordinance forcing landlords to accept the first qualified tenet that applies.
Seattle’s Black community has also dramatically dropped since Amazon became dominant in the city. The Central District of Seattle was the historic heart of the Black community in Seattle, in large part due to it being one of the only areas Black people were allowed to rent or buy homes.
The Central District was about 75% Black in 1970. It now has 14% Black residents and is shrinking at 1% per year. The area became majority white this decade for the first time since the 1950s.
The Central District is located in the middle of the city and has attracted many of the new tech workers flooding into the city because of the location. This has resulted in an increase in rents, taxes, and home prices driving out many residents and preventing young people raised in the neighborhood from renting or buying homes. Much of Seattle’s Black population has moved to cheaper suburbs south of the city. The local public radio station quoted a University of Washington researcher saying “There’s this massive shift of African-Americans in Seattle moving away from where opportunity or higher-income areas are.”
The wealth Amazon brought to Seattle has not been shared with the its black residents. In 2016, the median net wealth of a Black family in Seattle was $25,000 while the median net wealth for a white family was $80,000. From 2000 to 2016, the average earned wages of Black families decreased from $44,000 in spending power to $25,000.
Amazon’s gentrification and whitening of Seattle is structurally racist and a direct danger to all workers who live in that city. Do we really want a nation of cites dominated and occupied by massive corporations where only the rich and white can live and the vast majority of us must live on edges of the city and society–living in deeper and deeper poverty?
Fight gentrification, homelessness and racism! Join us tonight, Oct. 20 to say: “Justice for Laquan, Not $ for Amazon HQ!”