Jeff Bezos comes across as your typical white, progressive billionaire. He’s brilliant, business savvy, and uses his whopping wealth to support liberal causes — sometimes. So on the surface, the announcement that his company, Amazon, is building a second headquarters in Long Island City (LIC), a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens, would seem like a good thing. For one, this means Amazon will bring 25,000 jobs to New York and help fuel the city’s local economy. But who will really benefit from this move? Let’s break it down.
Amazon says the average salary of workers at its new headquarters (HQ2) will be $150,000. However, there’s no guarantee or stipulation in the deal stating that those jobs will go to locals. Plus, given the tech industry’s poor track record in diversity, there’s good reason to be skeptical about the number of people of color who will actually fill those six-figure income positions. On the other hand, administrative assistants and maintenance staff workers will earn much less, and, as a result, won’t be able to afford to live in LIC, where one-bedroom apartments in an older building rent for more than $2,000 a month, while rents in LIC’s new towers cost over $3,000 a month.
As part of the deal, Amazon will hire union construction workers to build its offices. The tech giant also promises to host events at the nearby Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing projects in the nation. Such events include job fairs and resume workshops along with a workforce development program. It’s commendable, but it turns out that New York taxpayers will be funding the majority of these initiatives. According to the agreement, Amazon will invest $5 million in the programs, while $10 million will come from the city and state revenue. Furthermore, Queensbridge tenants deserve more than vague promises of job fairs that won’t necessarily equip them to compete for Amazon’s lucrative jobs.
The global behemoth also vows to hire women and contract minority-owned businesses, but, again, there are few specifics about the exact investments.
The announcement that HQ2 will be built in New York sparked a frenzy of backlash and protest from residents who live in Long Island City and surrounding neighborhoods who fear that they’ll soon be priced out of their homes. Following the announcement of the deal, real estate speculators began to buy up properties, which is going to increase the rents even more. This also signals an exacerbation of gentrification in the area, which disproportionately hurts black and brown communities. Not only will this likely increase the cost of living within the neighborhood, but HQ2 is also replacing the city’s original plan to build 1,500 affordable housing units.
A similar situation occurred when Amazon built its headquarters in Seattle, Washington, in 2013. Within five years, the influx of white techie bros led to skyrocketing rents and home values and accelerated a homelessness crisis. To make matters worse, the trillion-dollar company was instrumental in killing a tax on businesses that would have been used to generate revenue to combat the epidemic.
On top of that, the New York deal was configured in secrecy without public input. As a result, New Yorkers had no say on the fact that the state and city handed Amazon a $2.8 billion incentive package to lure it to the Big Apple. That’s billions of dollars in subsidies that could have otherwise been invested in public schools, public housing, or the city’s crumbling mass transit system.
New York boasts a population of 8.6 million. Only a small percentage of city dwellers and transplants will land high-income jobs at HQ2. Meanwhile, for the rest of us — good luck ever finding a seat on the 7 train, while Bezos flys high in a tax-funded helipad.
For more on how Amazon’s HQ2 will impact New York City, click here.
The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author’s and not necessarily the opinion of Black Enterprise.