Seattle lawmakers painted a grim picture on Monday of how Amazon has morphed their city, warning New York officials to do more to protect New Yorkers from Amazon HQ2 in Queens and the possible “Seattle-ization” effect of the tech giant.
“In 2012, right when Amazon consolidated [its workforce in the South Lake Union neighborhood], Seattle was 35 percent above the national average of housing cost,” said Seattle City Council Member Teresa Mosqueda. “Just last year, it’s 113 percent above the national cost.”
Amazon’s presence in Seattle, local lawmakers said, has resulted in more gentrification, an increase in the homeless population and forced black and Latino residents further out of the city and away from their jobs.
“We’ve seen the headlines over and over in Seattle, that Seattle is not only getting poorer but getting whiter and getting ricker in terms of more income inequality,” Mosqueda said.
Mosqueda brought up the Seattle head tax issue, saying that Amazon executives agreed with the city and then turned around and funded the opposition effort.
“They did not keep their word,” she said, “and we saw not just an attack on policy, but on the very existence of public policy making.”
With its HQ2 in Queens, Amazon could steamroll New York City in the same way, experts warned, if officials don’t require that the tech company contribute into the city it is benefitting so much from.
Is Amazon HQ2 in Queens a good deal for NYC?
The city and state have been criticized for offering $3 billion in subsidies to Amazon, but officials have said those subsidiaries would help bring big benefits, like 25,000 new jobs, to residents.
But the Amazon HQ2 deal isn’t as great for New York City as it’s been billed, said New York State Sen. Mike Gianaris.
“We’re talking about 25,000 jobs over 10 to 15 years, as if it’s going to turn the city’s economy in a new direction. New York City over the last several years has been producing 90,000 jobs every single year,” he said.
“Even if this comes to fruition, you’re talking about an average of 2,000 jobs a year added on to that,” he added. “We’re creating 90,000 jobs without giving away money to Amazon, and yet we’re supposed to load up $3 billion in a truck and give it to them just to get an extra 2,000 every single year.”
So where can we go from here? It’ll be hard work, many said, but Seattle lawmakers stressed that New York needs to fight back.
“Amazon is a part of people’s daily lives, they don’t want to think negatively of an entity they rely on for things brought to them conveniently,” said Seattle City Council Member Lisa Herbold. “You can make Amazon contribute to things the city needs — housing, schools, city parks — while also building work-force pipelines. Workers only win when they bargain.”
New Yorkers should also be prepared, Herbold said, to shift the conversation away from philanthropy. Though Amazon execs might highlight all the money they donate, “we are in a modern gilded era,” she said, “and charitable gifts don’t solve infrastructure issues or inequalities.”
Mosqueda urged New York lawmakers to lean from Seattle’s mistakes and build in protections with the Amazon HQ2 agreement in terms of housing and taxes, look at zoning issues early on and ensure that labor standards are enforced.
“Your efforts here could become a turning point in this nation,” Herbold told New Yorkers, “in favor of a new normal of equitable development that is inclusive and accountable.”
Over the weekend, Amazon published an open letter to New York City, saying that the company hopes the HQ2 announcement was the beginning of “what we hope will be a long and mutually beneficial partnership between New Yorkers and Amazon.”