Amazon committed Thursday to providing $23 million to create and preserve nearly 600 affordable homes in Seattle over the next few years.
The investment is Amazon’s first in Seattle through its Housing Equity Fund, a $2 billion commitment it launched in January 2021 to provide 20,000 affordable homes across three regions where Amazon has hubs: the Puget Sound region, the Washington, D.C., area, and Nashville, Tennessee. So far Amazon has committed $360 million to fund 3,400 affordable homes in the Puget Sound area, including the new units announced Thursday.
In Seattle, the funds will help build or repurpose 568 apartments and homes in the city’s Mount Baker and Columbia City neighborhoods, for residents who make between 30% and 80% of the area median income. For a one-person household, 30% of area median income in Seattle is about $27,200, according to the Seattle Housing Authority. For a two-person household, it is $31,050. 80% area median income is $66,750 for a one-person household and $76,250 for a two-person home.
Amazon, like other tech giants who have built a presence in Seattle, has been criticized for raising the cost of living in the region as it brings in highly paid specialized workers like engineers, who at Amazon can now make a base salary of $350,000 annually. The average salary for a software engineer at Amazon is roughly $182,000, according to data from Indeed. Comparatively, Amazon’s warehouse workers make an average of $33,000 per year.
Median compensation for all full-time Amazon employees in the U.S. was $39,677 in 2021, according to the company’s proxy statement.
In the city of Seattle, the cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment has gone up 14% year over year, according to data from Apartment List, an online marketplace for apartment lists. In May this year, the median rent for a one-bedroom in the city was $1,616.
Over the last decade, rent in the Seattle metro area has shot up 43%, according to commercial real estate group CoStar.
Through the Housing Equity Fund, Amazon wants to focus on three goals, said Catherine Buell, director of the fund: preservation of affordability, building nontraditional public/private partnerships and working with developers of color and organizations led by people of color.
Amazon has an application process for organizations to apply for funding for projects they have already envisioned, she continued.
“When we are just focusing on money, when we’re focusing on the technical difficulty of actually building these things, what we end up doing is just building boxes,” said David Tan, executive director of the Mount Baker Housing Association. “But when we hear the voices of our community … then what we can focus on is actually building a safe harbor and a home.”
On Thursday, Amazon committed $15.2 million in loans to the Mount Baker Housing Association to fund two apartment developments. Grand Street Commons, to be built around the planned light-rail station near Judkins Park, will feature 204 apartments for residents making 60% or less of the area median income. Mount Baker Village, in the Mount Baker and Columbia City neighborhood, will include 155 units for tenants in the same income bracket.
Grand Street Commons will be ready for move-in in summer 2024. Mount Baker Village is a preservation project, meaning the Housing Equity Fund is helping refinance existing units.
Amazon also committed a $3.5 million grant to El Centro de la Raza, a nonprofit serving the Latino community in Washington, and a $4.5 million grant to Gardner Global, a Black-owned, Seattle-based real estate development group. Estela Ortega, the executive director at El Centro de la Raza, said the group originally thought they were applying for a loan — until Amazon instead offered a grant.
El Centro de la Raza will develop an 87-unit apartment complex, called El Centro Columbia City, for tenants who make 30% to 60% of the area median income. The units will be ready in summer 2024.
Gardner Global will develop Calvary 1, an apartment complex built on the former site of a Black church that will include 122 units for tenants making 80% of area median income or less. Calvary 1 will be completed winter 2025.
El Centro Columbia City will feature an accredited bilingual child development center and a church space, while Mount Baker Village will include programs for financial assistance, health resources and life skills.
“Amazon as a corporate citizen, if you will, as a corporate player, recognizes the need to build a village, to build several villages,” Mayor Bruce Harrell said at a press conference Thursday in the Central District, adding that his mom and dad lived a few blocks down the street and his orthodontist is in the neighborhood.
“This is a village, and inside the village you’re going to see families and children that are going to be our next leaders,” Harrell said. “It takes this kind of diversity to build a great city.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that the mayor’s parents used to live in the Central District.