Amazon Invests an Additional $1.4B in Affordable Housing Fund for Seattle and Beyond

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, left, speaks with Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell at an event at the Pacific Medical Tower in Seattle where Jassy announced $1.4 billion in new funding for affordable housing in regions including the Seattle area, Nashville, Tenn., and Arlington, Va. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Amazon is bolstering its Housing Equity Fund with an additional $1.4 billion and has committed to preserving and creating 14,000 more housing units in areas including Seattle, Nashville, Tenn., and Arlington, Va.

CEO Andy Jassy announced the news at an event today held at Seattle’s Pacific Medical Tower, an early headquarters for Amazon.

“We’re here to talk about the importance of affordable housing, especially in communities like ours, where rents have outpaced salaries and may have made it harder for people like teachers and nurses and first responders to live close to their jobs and remain part of the communities they support,” Jassy said.

With this new commitment, Amazon’s total support for affordable housing exceeds $3.6 billion, impacting more than 35,000 housing units in what the company calls its “hometown communities.”

The three Amazon hubs have all faced challenges meeting housing demands for lower-income residents, a problem exacerbated by high-paying tech jobs widening the economic divide.

Launched in January 2021 with a $2 billion pledge, Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund has increased affordable housing inventory through below-market loans and grants to public agencies, housing partners, and minority-led organizations. Initiatives include a partnership with the National Housing Trust to help moderate-income individuals and families purchase homes.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy sharing news of Amazon’s additional funding for affordable housing. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Amazon leaders announced today that they surpassed their original two-year funding and housing goals, contributing $2.2 billion to the effort and providing more than 21,000 affordable homes.

Jassy explained that their efforts target households earning 30% to 80% of area median income—residents “who often don’t typically qualify for subsidies but whose pay hasn’t kept pace with escalating rates.”

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell expressed his gratitude for Amazon’s support, saying he would highlight the city’s partnership with Amazon at the upcoming U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“When you look across our beautiful city, you realize that a lot of the new construction … these kinds of projects just don’t happen organically,” Harrell said. “They happen because people with resources and the wherewithal to think about other people who are less fortunate than them need a place to stay.”

Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson emphasized the positive impact of Amazon’s efforts on the community.

“The biggest stress in a child’s life is housing instability. And the Housing Equity Fund is working directly to alleviate that stress in our families,” Robinson said. “It’s an investment in our future.”

Keeping the whole industry going

Organizations working to deploy more housing also commend support from Amazon and other tech companies.

Ben Maritz, CEO of Great Expectations, an affordable housing development company in Seattle, stated that his company has significantly benefited from Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund.

Maritz explained that high interest rates have hit lower-income housing projects hard, creating gaps in funding. The Amazon fund provides “essential” support, loaning money at reduced rates to advance projects.

“It’s keeping the whole industry going,” he added. “They’re great. They’re easy to work with.”

Amazon reported that it has funded over 8,600 units in the Seattle area, increasing affordable housing stock by 30% in Bellevue, Wash., where it has been expanding its office space.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy shares details about his company’s efforts to address housing shortages at Amazon company hubs in three U.S. cities. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Maritz indicated that Microsoft also significantly contributes to the sector, helping developers purchase tax-exempt bonds to cut building costs and aiding with financing for land acquisitions.

Shoko Toyama, vice president and chief development officer at the nonprofit Plymouth Housing, likewise praised both corporations.

“We appreciate the support tech companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, have made to being leaders in this space in our region,” Toyama said via email, “both through their direct investments and through their vocal support of affordable housing, including throughout the Puget Sound region.”

Both companies contributed to a Plymouth Housing campaign creating 600 permanent homes for homeless individuals, and they’ve donated to the organization’s operational programs as well.

Business, civic, and community leaders have long debated the right strategies to address the Seattle region’s housing crisis and the obligations of successful tech companies to help resolve the problem.

In 2019, Microsoft announced $500 million of support for affordable housing efforts in the Seattle area, initiating a movement among tech giants. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook (now Meta) soon followed, each pledging approximately $1 billion or more to housing development in their communities. Microsoft added another $250 million a year after its initial commitment.

Bumpy road to partnerships

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell addresses the crowd at an Amazon announcement. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Amazon, valued at nearly $2 trillion, reported revenue of $574.8 billion last year, up 12%, with profits of $30.4 billion.

Many in the region have argued that the company wasn’t doing enough to mitigate impacts caused by its influx of high-paid workers.

The Seattle City Council in 2018 passed—and then quickly repealed—a controversial “head tax” on Amazon and other high-revenue businesses.

Ultimately, the council approved JumpStart Seattle, a payroll tax applying to companies with yearly payroll expenses of $8.1 million or more. The tax affects hundreds of entities, but roughly 80% of proceeds come from fewer than a dozen businesses, mostly in the tech sector—including Amazon.

Amazon and city leadership had such a strained relationship that Jassy in 2021 stated Amazon no longer considered Seattle its headquarters, instead viewing the broader region—including Bellevue—as home. While that rift seems to be mending, it was perhaps no accident that Bellevue was well represented at today’s event.

In addition to Harrell and Robinson, other elected officials at the event included Bellevue council members Jared Nieuwenhuis and Dave Hamilton, and acting Bellevue City Manager Diane Carlson. State lawmakers in attendance included Rep. Frank Chopp of Seattle, Rep. Nicole Macri of Seattle, Rep. Davina Duerr of Bothell, and Rep. Emily Alvarado of West Seattle.

Last fall, Amazon supported the Seattle Housing Levy, donating $25,000 to the yes campaign. Seattle voters approved the $970 million, seven-year measure, which funds the construction of affordable family-size apartments and for-sale homes, housing nonprofits, and community housing stability efforts.

Both the payroll tax and the housing levy significantly drive City of Seattle programs providing low-income housing.

Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson speaking at an Amazon event. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Efforts by Amazon, other companies, government agencies, and private nonprofit and for-profit developers have increased the housing inventory, but the crisis remains. Seattle alone needs over 70,000 new low- and middle-income housing units in the next two decades, according to city estimates.

“We’re way behind in large part due to interest rates,” Maritz said. “The pipeline for housing has fallen off a cliff.”

While housing strains continue in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide, tech sector growth has significantly slowed.

Amazon, Microsoft, and other tech companies have executed several rounds of layoffs in recent years. Last year, Amazon laid off 27,000 corporate workers, with roughly 2,500 from the Seattle area. Its most recent layoffs in April impacted hundreds of tech jobs.

However, both companies have seen a broader tech rebound spurred by rising interest in artificial intelligence. Amazon’s stock is up nearly 50% over the past year, while Microsoft shares are up 30%.

Maritz expressed hope that big tech companies and others would leverage some of their AI expertise to reduce costs and gain efficiencies in developing new housing. This includes automating tedious steps in drafting architectural plans and devising strategies for modular, low-waste construction.

Ours, Maritz said, is a low-tech industry.

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