Dear Mayor Bowser and members of the DC Council,
We are writing to express our concern about the large incentive package being offered to Amazon, of which the public still has very little detail. We urge you to issue a public statement affirming your refusal to provide any local subsidies to Amazon to entice them to locate their second headquarters here in the District.
We share a belief that the District’s resources should address the social, racial, and economic inequalities that plague our region, rather than enrich corporate profit. Over the past few decades, the District’s economic development policies have led to a massive increase in the cost of living. As a result, many low-income residents of color have been displaced from the District, or are struggling every day to survive here. We fear that an Amazon headquarters will only exacerbate our affordable housing and transit crises, speeding up gentrification and displacement until DC is effectively only home to the rich.
Prioritizing District Residents:Though most of the details of the incentive package are still unknown, we do know that the deal does not prioritize the interest of current and long-time District residents:
The deal explicitly entices new residents to “Move Here, Grow Here, and Thrive Here,” offering $5,000 for every new employee who locates here and $7,500 to employees who establish their principal residency here.The deal hands choice of public land, including the current site of DC General (our largest family shelter) over to Amazon. Amazon will not contribute to our local budget following their relocation, with a five year property tax abatement on any property that Amazon occupies, a five year abatement on corporate property taxes, and a permanent reduction in their corporate franchise taxes, along with other tax incentives and cash credits for new hires.
In contrast, long-time District residents are not thriving here. Countless studies have documented the extent of our affordable housing and homelessness crises, poor health outcomes, unemployment, and food insecurity, particularly among DC’s Black and Brown communities. Our transit system is in jeopardy, with crumbling infrastructure and no dedicated funding for Metro.
Though the deal offers a vague promise of jobs for DC residents, we are concerned that many of these jobs will not provide livable wages and benefits to District residents. We also do not have confidence in the District’s capacity to provide sufficient oversight to ensure that Amazon abides by its commitments.
For example, the District paid roughly $300 million to redevelop the Wharf- one of the largest real estate projects in the history of DC. Though the deal required developers to hire locally, there were no wage or benefit requirements for the jobs created, allowing developers to keep labor costs low. Most of the construction workers at the Wharf were not represented by a union, leading workers to be paid less than $15 an hour.
This is not the only example of the District negotiating poor deals for District workers and residents. We have witnessed Walmart renege on its promises to the District without any repercussions. We have seen countless developers fail to meet standard First Source requirements. We continue to see the District struggle to enforce worker protections and affordable housing requirements. We continue to see the District pour resources into private development projects, even when they run way over budget. When these large corporations and developers fail to make good on their promises, those consequences fall almost exclusively on poor and working-class Black and Brown residents.
Jeff Bezos and Amazon:Jeff Bezos was recently declared the world’s wealthiest man, and the wealthiest person in history. His personal worth exceeds $120 billion dollars, more than the individual GDPs of two thirds of the countries in the world. His business empire spans across sectors from Whole Foods and the Washington Post, to Zappos, Twitch, and IMDB. His personal net worth is 8 times the size of the District’s annual operating budget, and 17 times our local operating budget.
Amazon, as a company, is worth more than $700 billion dollars, 50 times the District’s annual budget, and its influence continues to grow. It captures 44% of all online sales in the United States, and by 2020, they are projected to gross close to $28 trillion in sales.
In an age where income inequality is at its highest, and DC specifically has some of the highest rates of income inequality, it is unconscionable that we would offer incentives to the richest man and company in history, at the expense of hard working District residents.
Amazon’s Impact:Amazon’s negative impact on the city of Seattle, home to Amazon’s first headquarters, is well documented. There, rents have increased 40% in the last four years. The Seattle region has seen an explosion in homelessness, a 47% increase from 2007, and now has the third largest homeless population in the country. The city places in the top 10 for worst transportation congestion. Seattle has led the nation in home price increases for 13 months and home prices are up 15.1% this past year to $725,000.
These kinds of crises are currently wreaking havoc on the lives of District residents, and we worry that they will only be exacerbated should Amazon move in.
Our demands:We will not abide by the bidding war that Amazon has created. Jurisdictions across the country are offering “blank checks” to this company, setting a terrible precedent for private companies across the country. What will stop Google or any other company from following suit and opening up a bidding war with cities and states to drain their coffers? How will we keep these corporate giants from profiting off of public land and money at the expense of the people who live and work here?
We will not accept our tax money being used to enrich the wealthiest man and company in history. Instead, we urge you to fund initiatives that will address the District’s long-standing social, racial and economic inequality. Specifically, the District must prioritize housing security, economic justice, food access, healthcare, and community safety.
We urge you join local leaders from New York, Indianapolis, and Austin and issue a public statement affirming your refusal to provide massive subsidies to the tech giant.