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In Major Win Over 'Corporate Bullying,' Seattle Approves Tax on Amazon to Combat Homelessness




My phone keeps me logged in under a user I forgot the password for. At work I’m logged in via Facebook. Or vice versa.


1 penny would be too much. It’s about accountability. Look at how much Seattle already spends on “homelessness”. Look at the results.


It is a discriminatory tax - they are going to drive away the largest businesses, which are the ones that are the most able to move.

Additionally, they’ve discovered it’s a job and revenue killer - why would Amazon, or any large company - choose to take on an additional tax burden?

And you’re right - it hasn’t been formally repealed yet, but as noted in the article, 7 of the 9 council members have said they’re repealing it. I guess they prefer the power of being councillors to sticking to their supposedly heartfelt beliefs.


They choose Seattle because of it’s beauty, it’s strong culture scene and its educated high tech workforce. That’s why Seattle almost always has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Note that it is precisely because it so desirable a place that housing prices soar and creates homelessness.

The “driving business away” argument would make a lot more sense if 1) they actually were driven away, and 2) the jobs that were driven away were actually good jobs.


They seem to have pretty good results from the budget they have for this purpose - in terms of number of people sheltered, the numbers that get mental health and job services and the numbers that find permanent housing.


They are spending more every year and the problem is getting worse. Shelters have an ongoing cost and most permanent housing has to be subsidized by taxpayers. So their “fixes” are actually locking taxpayers into long term expenses.


The problem is getting worse because rents have gone up 9% per year for the last decade. Without the city’s efforts the problem would clearly be much worse.


The driving away business argument is addressed in the article -

  1. Estimated that it will cost 14, 300 jobs
  2. the jobs it will cost are the type that Amazon is bringing to the city - i.e., high paying tech jobs. Or are you suggesting that those aren’t the types of jobs a city wants?


And rents are going up 9%/year because Seattle’s zoning all but forbids multi-unit developments. If they changed the zoning rules to allow denser construction, there wouldn’t be the same level of increases


Do you really believe a Chamber of Commerce propaganda piece is providing an unbiased source of information? Seattle has been at full employment for a decade - it is very unlikely that would change because of a 14 cents an hour fee.
Amazon’s median salary is less than 30000 (because a majority of its workforce are warehouse workers). The economist is a pretty conservative publication and they recently published a story indicating that Amazon tends to depress wages in areas where they have facilities.


Untrue. First of all, the fact that Seattle is predominately filled with single family homes is part of its character. Secondly, when small single family homes are bulldozed to create larger multi-unit buildings - the individual units produced still cost more than the houses they replace (because those new units tend to be fancy and built for the rich) - so housing costs still go up, not down.

  1. Amazon suspended construction of space for 7,000 employees. One player can/would move half those jobs. I don’t think the overall estimate it grossly exaggerated.

  2. The average salary includes many part-time warehouse workers. Amazon isn’t maintaining its warehouse in Seattle, it’s maintaining the headquarters and research facilities. Tech employees at Amazon are averaging substantially more than 30,000. While they may depress wages where they have warehouses, they aren’t depressing them where they’re hiring tech workers.

  3. While you make light of a “14 cent an hour fee”, the cost, just for those 7,000 workers is considering relocating is close to $2 million. Even for a large company, when you start talking millions, they take that into account for making their decisions.


Not untrue. Look at a zoning map of Seattle.

Yes, the single family homes are “part of it’s character”. That’s also known as NIMBY. The prohibition on multi-unit dwellings prevents denser population. Therefore, you have a choice - live further away, or pay a higher rent. Supply and demand doesn’t get suspended just because it’s part of “character”.

As for your second argument, in MA at least (certainly not quite as progressive as Seattle…) there’s a law (called Chapter 40) that requires a certain percentage of housing units to be set aside for low income residents. Even if the majority of units are “fancy and built for the rich”, the combination of low income units and increased supply provides greater mitigation than simply preventing multi-unit development.


Seattle already bulldozes more than one house a day and, as I said, what is built is almost always more expensive per unit than the houses being removed. They didn’t have the kind of requirement you are talking about until just last year when a Mandatory Housing Affordability law was passed to require large developments to have a certain percentage of lower cost/rent units (the law had a community input time period that is just ending so it will really start this summer).


um…so if they were bulldozing 50 houses a day and replacing them with 4 plexes what would rents look like in a few years?


Hahahahahahha! “Part of its character” - the people in San Fran say the same thing. You either support building density or you support homelessness. Which is it?


One house a day. And that creates how many units? When you zone for single-unit housing, you artificially limit supply in the market, thereby creating a housing shortage, and a huge windfall for those lucky enough to have owned before the boom. All you’re doing is redistributing wealth from those who are newcomers to those who are already here.

I have no issue if you want “character”, but don’t complain that there’s a lack of affordable housing - the two go hand in hand. There’s a reason it’s called “snob zoning”.


Seattle has 20% of its area zoned for multi-unit and they build skyscrapers there - so they’ve ended up with a central city high-rise skyline while still maintaining a higher rate of home ownership than most every city. Through that mechanism they have built enough housing (and created enough jobs) for an additional 100,000 people in the last 5 years. Thus they are and have been the fastest growing of any of Americas 50 largest cities. The idea that you need to rip out single family homes and put high rises everywhere in the city would be stupid for them. Just because there is demand doesn’t mean you have to meet it.

It’s not the bull-dozed houses that create substantial new units. My point about them is that even if you do extend the possibility for small multi-unit buildings to the areas with all those 70 year old bungalows, you don’t necessarily increase the supply of cheaper housing units - experience shows exactly the opposite.

And when you speak of supply and demand you seem to only look at the labor side and not at the employer side. That Chamber of Commerce study you pointed to looks at how many jobs Amazon claimed they would take away and then factors in a multiplier effect. But they ignore the businesses that will now go into the space Amazon was going to be in. Those new businesses will also hire and will also have a multiplier effect. Perhaps those will be smaller start-ups not subject to the large employer taxes - but the idea that they will not provide jobs that are just as good or better is unfounded.


As I said - snob zoning. If you want lower housing prices, you have to increase supply until it meets, or exceeds demand. Seattle obviously isn’t doing that. As a result, demand drives prices up. So, if property does become available for development, obviously a developer is going to do the form of development that is going to repay their costs the most effectively - i.e., higher priced housing. When you don’t restrict multi-unit developments, you get a wider range of price ranges (see, for example Houston - not as pretty a city as Seattle, but less of an affordability issue).

As for the businesses that (may) go in where Amazon doesn’t, they may (or may not) replace the jobs, and they may (or may not) be the kind of jobs that are considered “good jobs”. Most people tend to prefer the bird in the hand to the bird in the bush. The notion that the potential jobs that other potential companies may provide being as good or better than those that certainly would be lost is equally, to use your term, “unfounded”.