Amazon pledges $23 million to build affordable homes in Seattle

Amazon on Thursday pledged $23 million to build and maintain nearly 600 affordable homes in Seattle over the next few years.

This investment is Amazon’s first in Seattle through the Housing Equity Fund, a $2 billion commitment launched in January 2021 to provide 20,000 affordable homes in three areas where Amazon has centers: Puget Sound, Washington, DC, and Nashville, Tennessee. So far, Amazon has committed $360 million to fund 3,400 affordable homes in Puget Sound, including new units announced Thursday.

In Seattle, the money 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 median income in the area. For a one-person household, 30% of the median area income in Seattle is about $27,200, according to the Seattle Housing Authority. For a family of two, it’s $31,050. 80% median area income is $66,750 for a one-person household and $76,250 for a two-person home.

Amazon, like other tech giants that have established a presence in Seattle, has been criticized for raising the cost of living in the region for bringing in highly paid, specialized workers like engineers, who at Amazon can now command a base salary of $350,000 a year. The average salary for a software engineer at Amazon is about $182,000, according to data from Indeed. By comparison, Amazon warehouse workers earn an average of $33,000 per year.

In Seattle, the cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment is up 14% year over year, according to data from Apartment Listing, an online marketplace for apartment listings. In May of this year, the average rent for one bedroom in the city was $1,616.

Over the past decade, rents in the Seattle metro area have risen 43%, according to commercial real estate group CoStar.

Through the Housing Equity Fund, Catherine Boyle, fund manager, said Amazon wants to focus on three goals: maintaining affordability, building unconventional public/private partnerships, and working with minority-led organizations and minority developers.

She added that Amazon has an application process for organizations to apply for funding for projects they have already envisioned.

On Thursday, Amazon committed $15.2 million in loans to the Mount Baker Housing Association to fund two housing projects. Grand Street Commons, which will be built around a planned light rail station near Judkins Park, will feature 204 apartments for residents at 60% or less median incomes in the area. The Mount Baker Village, located in the Mount Baker and Columbia City neighborhoods, will include 155 units for renters of the same income class.

Grand Street Commons will be ready to move into in the summer of 2024. The Mount Baker Village is a conservation project, which means a housing equity fund helps refinance existing units.

Amazon also committed a $3.5 million grant to El Centro de la Raza, a nonprofit organization serving the Latino community in Washington, and a $4.5 million grant to Gardner Global, a Seattle-based black-owned real estate development group.

El Centro de la Raza will develop an 87-unit condominium, called El Centro Columbia City, for tenants who bring in 30% to 60% of the median income in the area. The units will be ready in the summer of 2024.

Gardner Global will develop Calvary 1, an apartment complex built on the former site of Black Church that will include 122 units for tenants earning 80% of the median income in the area or less. Calvary 1 will be completed in the winter of 2025.

El Centro Columbia City will include an accredited bilingual child development center and church space, while Mount Baker Village will include programs for financial assistance, health resources, and life skills.

“When our city businesses and our private sector partners ramp up, as Amazon is doing with this significant investment, we can accelerate progress on challenging challenges like housing affordability,” Mayor Bruce Harrell said in a statement Thursday.

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