Amazon. Say the word in Seattle and it is likely to bring about all types of responses. Some will complain about how the company is ruining the Seattle vibe and making the city un-affordable while others will tell you how the company is ushering in a golden age for the rain soaked city of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle is perhaps one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is also one of the most progressive and welcoming cities in the United States. However; an interesting and sad development has unfolded in the last several years. While thousands of young highly paid tech workers flock to employers like Amazon, the number of people on the street and sleeping under bridges increased dramatically.
The Amazon Effect:
Seattle is seeing growth that makes native’s head’s spin. The company occupies countless high rises in the city with around 30,000 employees coming to work in the city daily. The company is creating a lot of highly paid jobs and doing so quickly. This onslaught of new residents to the city who are able to drop $2,000-$3,000 a month for rent is clearly driving the rental market upwards. In fact, techies within Seattle are said to be the 2nd highest paid in the country
The high earners has been a positive thing for the local economy. You can not look up into the sky in Seattle without spotting several new buildings being constructed. Everything from massive luxury high rises to trendy new condo buildings dot every neighborhood within 5 miles of city center. Old dive bars are being replaced with chic new cocktail bars and eateries. All about Seattle, you can find people dropping big money on pricey cocktails, Sunday brunches and artisan everything. It is clear that the grunge Seattle of the past no longer exists. Seattle is quickly on track to become one of the most metropolitan chic cities of the world.
Meanwhile On the Other Side of the Street:
While those working for Amazon are seeing amazing increases in their lifestyles, others in Seattle are clearly riding the polar opposite of the spectrum. As the newly upper middle class and wealthy make their way to work, they cannot but help noticing the distinct increase of the people living on the street. One could go to King County’s website to get the latest stats on homeless counts from the last several years. Recent homeless counts have shown the number of those rough sleeping going up dramatically. Thousands of persons and families are now homeless in Seattle and the surrounding King County metro area.
For those actually living in the city, we do not need a homeless count to know that we have a issue. I walk to work everyday and in that short 18 minute commute, I pass at least several homeless people. The people vary in age and demographic. They vary in their mental stability and that takes place day to day. Some days the people I see look up sheepishly and ask for a dollar. Other days some of them are in the middle of the street screaming at cars and swinging imaginary swords. The reasons for their homeless vary. In some situations it is clear that the person cannot take care of his or herself. Other times I come across younger homeless smoking weed with funny signs. My personal experience mirrors what we know about homelessness, the reasons for it are complex.
Amazon did not physically throw anyone out on the street. Jeff Bezsoz did not go around to apartment blocks laughing as families were evicted so he could build high rises for his highly paid employees to work in. However; it is impossible to ignore the ever increasing gap. There are thousands of people in the city who can drop $15 on an after work cocktail and thousands who are begging for food to eat. As more high income earners flood the rental market, the number of affordable or reasonably priced rents will continue to decrease.
Corporate Good and Progressive Politics Unite
Seattle is not a passive city when it comes to attacking social issues. In August of 2017, the city’s population overwhelmingly supported a seven year $290 million dollar levy to build more affordable housing and support homeless. In may ways the city fills gaps in America’s social programs for its citizens. Until recently, Amazon did not do much in the way of corporate giving. However; Amazon is starting to get into the game of helping on the homeless front. They recently donated a hotel slated for demolition to act as homeless housing for 200 persons. They are also donating space in a new 6 story building to act as housing for homeless.
The stark contrast of the two worlds running parallel to each other are surreal. It is unlikely that extra funding from the current presidential administration will be forthcoming. The public private partnerships and willingness to attack homeless together might be the best bet Seattle has to equal the scorecard. This is not meant to attack or criticize Amazon. We just have to question all of our big companies in every city around the world. What type of corporate citizen do you wish to be?