Booted From Queens, Amazon Is Now Driving Up Rents In Virginia Instead
Shortly after the announcement of Amazon’s plan to build an office in Long Island City, activist groups mobilized protests against the e-commerce giant. (Jennifer Hsu / WNYC)

New Yorkers will never know what could have happened if Amazon had agreed to take $3 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to build its Long Island City “HQ2,” instead of taking its helipad and going home. Or maybe not. The New York Times on Thursday reported that residents in Northern Virginia’s Arlington County, the other lucky locality that got picked amid a rabid bidding war for Amazon’s second headquarters, is driving up prices in what was an already expensive housing market.

From the story:

“Speculators have begun asking homeowners to sell. Potential home buyers, typically younger, are holding off buying to save more money for down payments. Low-income renters are worried about rising rents and about how they will afford basic necessities.”

The paper goes on to quote several working class residents who have seen their housing costs climb, including a woman named Gloria, who works as a housekeeper. “Before in the past, every time the rent were to increase, it would only increase around $15 monthly. But now they increased it up to $75,” she said.

One homeowner, Benedetta Kissel, said her son was forced to move to Maryland because the Arlington area had become out of reach. “Many people’s children can’t afford to live in their hometown due to high rents and home prices,” she said. “Amazon will only make this worse.”

All told, Amazon received $773 million in combined incentives from Virginia, far less than what New York offered. Nonetheless, local housing and community advocates are already wondering whether state and county officials got enough in return. “I don’t think we as a community and leaders did enough upfront to focus on affordable housing with Amazon,” Julius D. Spain Sr., the president of the Arlington chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. told the Times. “How are our families who are earning $20,000 to $60,000 a year going to sustain and afford to live in a place such as Arlington?”

According to one report, the median home price in Arlington County is set to jump by 17.2 percent by the end of the year. And just last month, the Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, reported that investors have been snapping up properties to turn into rentals.

In addition to the Times’ story, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon’s pullout, which was originally described as death knell for New York’s plan to grow its tech industry (Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was ultimately in charge of brokering the deal, called its collapse “the “greatest tragedy that I have seen since I have been in government.) hasn’t stopped other companies like Google, Facebook and Uber from making big expansions in New York. Amazon has itself been rumored to be looking for additional office space in the city.

The news amounts to a dose of vindication for New Yorkers who opposed the deal like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and State Senator Mike Gianaris, both of whom were branded “jobs killers” in the aftermath.

Well, just as we said, Amazon quietly came to NYC without needing a dime of public money or special tax treatment.

The jobs came without the cost.

NYC is an attractive place to locate on its own (incl. public infra!), w/o billions of dollars in corporate giveaway “incentives.” https://t.co/dOXWljLHcO

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 11, 2019

Mmm hmmm…. https://t.co/ixjzA3OMF5

— Sen. Mike Gianaris (@SenGianaris) July 11, 2019

New York played poker with Amazon, and New York won. https://t.co/K7BA6z1SPb

— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) July 11, 2019

Big tech firms adding jobs to nyc’s market w/o tax subsidies?

Thanks ⁦@AOC⁩ !

Who Needs Amazon HQ2? Not New York Real Estate’s Tech Boom – WSJ https://t.co/EeywLkUGTr

— Ani Quinn (@quinnessential) July 11, 2019

Gianaris later told freepicker, “There’s no question that the long term will prove that Long Island City did it right. You’re starting to see it. Tech is continuing to boom in New York even without Amazon.”

In other words, five months later, New York seems to be handling its breakup with Amazon just fine.

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