Sawant: Homeless ‘explosion' in Seattle happened as Amazon gobbled up prime real estate

by: KIRO 7 News Staff Updated:

SEATTLE - Amazon's announcement Thursday that it's looking to base a second headquarters in new North American location garnered quick reaction from leaders across the state.

While the company said that it plans to keep its Seattle space, it will spend more than $5 billion to build another "full equal" headquarters that will house as many as 50,000 employees. Cities and states have a month to apply, and the company will make a final decision next year.

Washington state leaders, including Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, commented on the company’s hunt for a second home; read their statements below.

Kshama Sawant, a socialist Seattle city councilwoman – known for speaking at protests and leading progressive movements in the city – was no exception in weighing in.

“Amazon's quest for a second massive corporate base is reminiscent of Boeing's ongoing efforts to ship jobs out of the Seattle area and hold us hostage. For decades, Boeing executives and billionaire shareholders have carried out systematic economic extortion by pitting cities and states against one another, forcing a race to the bottom for the living standards of workers, and crushing labor unions,” she wrote in a statement.

“Amazon has similarly been using its monopoly power to gobble up swathes of prime Seattle real estate, and extract plum deals from the city's Democratic establishment. This political establishment has, in the meanwhile, overseen an explosion in homelessness and an acute crisis in affordable housing.”

Amazon has called Seattle home for 22 years and now employs more than 40,000 people in the Emerald City.  As it’s extended its campus in South Lake Union, the “Amazon boom” has been looked into for rising rents.

Time magazine ran an article also questioning whether the company’s growth in the last few years has led to not only the higher cost of living – but also contributed to the number of residents without shelter. Officials from Amazon did not comment in that story. 

The city of Seattle declared a civil state of emergency in 2015.  According to a 2017 point-in-time count, around 3,800 individuals experience homelessness without shelter. 

Amazon has worked to house the homeless over the last few years. It’s set up a shelter inside a former motel for 200 homeless women and children. And in the spring, it announced it was building a new mixed-use space that would include a shelter for 65 families.

Sawant wrote that she does not want to turn away from technological innovation, but she wants to find a way that profits benefit “the majority of working people and of society.”

Here are reactions from other leaders around Washington state:

  • "It has been exciting to watch Amazon's incredible continuing growth in Washington state these past several years. They've attracted some of the brightest minds from around the world and have solidified our state's standing as one of the most innovative and best in the nation for business. As the company continues to grow -- including potential expansion of another 2 million square feet of office space in Seattle -- we will have further discussions with them about possibilities in Washington state." — Gov. Jay Inslee.

 

  • "The basic assumptions around the Washington economy just changed. A rapid expansion in a second HQ, as the announcement seems to indicate, means that one of the greatest engines for economic growth known to history will be growing somewhere else." — state Republican Rep. J.T. Wilcox, in a posting on his Facebook page.

 

  • "I don't see it as anti-Seattle, I see it as long-term global growth for the company. We are a midsize American city. We have global companies, global scale and global vision, but our ability to absorb and effectively double the presence of one company is limited." — Democratic state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, whose district is home to Amazon.

 

  • "Though they won't find one quite like it, it is telling that Amazon is looking for a city in the model of Seattle for its second home, similar to what major tech companies like Google and Facebook have done in building campuses here." — Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

 

  • "Sad day for Washington and Seattle. How long after the new HQ is open until those 40k of existing jobs in the state start to move? What a dark day for our economy." — Democratic Sen. Guy Palumbo, in a posting on his Facebook page.

 

  • "It doesn't take much reading between the lines to see what Amazon is trying to tell our region. Amazon, like every other business, needs a stable regulatory environment to feel comfortable making long-term investments." — Republican Sen. Joe Fain.

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