Sound Transit and Amazon are partnering to build 318 affordable-housing units near light-rail stations in Bellevue and SeaTac.

The new apartments, funded through $42.5 million in low-rate loans and grants from Amazon, are slated for the Spring District/120th Station in Bellevue and the Angle Lake Station in SeaTac. The units are targeting residents who earn 30-80% area median income. In Seattle, that ranges from $24,300 to $63,300 for a single-earner household, according to the Seattle Housing Authority.

Construction is likely to start in 2023 in Angle Lake and 2024 in Bellevue.

These are the first projects announced since Amazon committed $100 million in June to build 1,200 affordable-housing units on Sound Transit properties. That funding comes from an even larger commitment Amazon made in January 2021 to launch its Housing Equity Fund, a $2 billion initiative to preserve and create 20,000 affordable homes.

“Transportation and housing costs are linked,” said Catherine Buell, director of the Housing Equity Fund. “Our hope is we’re able to not only reduce the amount that families are spending on their housing but also reduce the amount that families are spending on transportation costs.”

Since launching the Housing Equity Fund, Amazon has committed $344 million in loans and grants in the Puget Sound region to create 2,870 affordable homes, the company said in its Tuesday announcement.

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But some Seattleites see tech giants like Amazon as one of the reasons the region needs help with affordable housing. 

A 2017 study from Zillow found a boom in jobs in South Lake Union near Amazon’s headquarters drove rent prices in the city up $0.07 on average per square foot, between 2011 and 2015. That translates to $44 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Seattle residents spend $1,600 on rent on average, according to data from the Census bureau. Median household income in King County was 102,620 in 2020, according to the Census Bureau.

Last month, Amazon announced it would more than double its max base salary – from $160,000 to $350,000.

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Buell says Amazon alone can’t fix the housing crisis in Seattle, adding that the company sees itself as “complementing the work governments are doing.”

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“For those who do criticize Amazon, the Housing Equity Fund really is our answer to helping to become a part of the solution,” she said.

King County needs 244,000 new affordable homes by 2040 to ensure all families in the area can afford a place to live that costs less than 30% of their income, based on a 2019 estimate from the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force.

At the Spring District Station, Amazon and Sound Transit are partnering with affordable-housing developer Bridge Housing to create 233 apartments. Mercy Housing Northwest is developing the project at Angle Lake, which will include at least 85 new units.

Amazon provided $25.8 million in loans and grants to Bridge Housing and $16.7 million to Mercy Housing Northwest.

The units are “targeting the teacher who can just not find a place to live in the Puget Sound and has to drive an hour to an hour and a half” to find affordable housing, Buell said.

Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson said Amazon’s efforts make “a real difference. Their commitment is bringing much needed affordability and accessibility to Bellevue residents.”

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Through its Housing Equity Fund, Amazon has invested $1.2 billion to create 8,000 affordable homes that are within a 10-minute walk of transit centers.

Amazon mirrored the $100 million it committed to the Puget Sound region in its other “hometown communities”  where it has a large presence, pledging a total of $300 million to the Seattle area, Arlington, Virginia, and Nashville, Tennessee.

Future affordable-housing sites in Seattle could include 10 lots in Rainier Valley that the transit agency gave to the city of Seattle, as well as land expected to become available at Northgate, Lynnwood, Redmond, Federal Way and Kent/Des Moines stations.

Buell couldn’t comment on other sites under consideration but said they would be places where Sound Transit could start construction by 2025.