Amazon on Tuesday announced that it has allocated $42.5 million to help pay for the construction of 318 affordable apartments near two light rail stations in the greater Seattle area. The projects are being done in partnership with Sound Transit, a local public transit agency.
The commitment is part of a broader effort by Amazon and other tech heavyweights to boost the inventory of affordable housing in the region, which has seen a seemingly never-ending rise in housing prices while the number of people experiencing homeless likewise keeps growing.
The funding comes from a broader $2 billion Housing Equity Fund announced in January 2021. Through the initiative the company is targeting affordable housing in three regions where it has a large presence and expanding economic divides: Seattle; Nashville, Tenn.; and Arlington, Va. It has committed to building or preserving 20,000 homes in the three regions.
Amazon, which has a market value of $1.5 trillion, has so far allocated more than $344.3 million in loans and grants to projects in the greater Seattle area, creating and saving 2,870 affordable homes.
The company also announced funding for 742 new apartments in the Arlington-Washington, D.C. region. totaling $81.7 million.
Washington state projects announced Tuesday include:
- A $25.8 million low-rate loan commitment and predevelopment grant to BRIDGE Housing, a nonprofit developer, for construction of 233 affordable apartments in Bellevue, near a light rail station that is scheduled to open next year.
- A $16.7 million low-rate loan commitment and predevelopment grant to Mercy Housing Northwest to build 85 affordable apartments near a light rail station in SeaTac. The project features sustainable construction materials and energy efficient units.
Construction is expected to start in 2024 in Bellevue and 2023 in SeaTac, according to the Seattle Times.
Bellevue in particular is feeling the pressure of high-tech growth colliding with a shortage of housing. Amazon is moving 25,000 new workers into its downtown, while Facebook, Salesforce, Microsoft and eBay continue expanding their presence in the city east of Seattle.
“Bellevue is one of the most unaffordable cities in Washington state,” Joe Fain, CEO of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, told GeekWire this past fall. “The high-paying jobs we add will be rivaled by the blue-collar jobs we add. And unless you have considerable net worth, you will not be able to afford a single-family home here — unless you already own one.”
Concerns about housing becoming increasingly out of reach for lower- and middle-income residents in the Seattle area worsened recently with news of a higher wage cap for Amazon workers, coupled with a headline about a Bellevue home selling for $1 million over the asking price.
Neighboring tech giant Microsoft has also committed to addressing the affordable housing crisis, pledging $750 million to efforts in the greater Seattle area. The company recently shared an update of its initiative. Microsoft has preserved or created 9,200 affordable housing units in the region since 2019.
While Amazon and Microsoft are helping stoke the housing challenges, Gregg Colburn, an assistant professor of real estate in the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments, gives them credit for their actions.
“What’s important from a big picture standpoint is recognition in public statements and financial commitments from two of our biggest corporations that the lack of housing is a real threat to our region,” Colburn told GeekWire in January.