How about a quick update on events in Seattle and around Amazon since the most recent chapter of the cautionary tale.
In September, The Seattle Times looked into some of the ways in which people “exit to permanent housing,” or leave the condition of homelessness. If they are in an emergency shelter in King County, it will take about $14,200 to accomplish the exit. If they are in transitional housing, defined as “temporary stays in a subsidized project,” the tab will be around $12,000.
A third option, rapid rehousing, pays subsidies for renting on the private market, which puts money in the pockets of local landlords, so it’s not such a bad thing. The cost to remove a person from homelessness via that route is around $7,300.
In the same month, several businesses made the news by complaining that people had been trespassing on exterior water sources and using their hoses for impromptu showers. They filled their drinking water bottles! Some had the nerve to shave or brush their teeth! A store manager said that the homeless people broke his spigot. (Why would they? They are the ones who are so desperate for water.)
Toward the end of the month, a long-established encampment “that included many wood frame structures” — in other words, a town — disappeared as heavy machinery cleared 25 acres. Journalist Matt Markovich said the inhabitants had plenty of warning, and “By city policy, no clean up can begin until there is shelter space for all residents, even if they don’t accept.”
Apparently, the city had been picking up garbage from the camp, which inspired the solid citizens of Seattle to bring their garbage, construction trash, and abandoned vehicles to the site, resulting in a rotten deal all the way round. The land may be repurposed as a dog park, the irony of which has not escaped the former residents.
Sara Rankin of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project has compared these activities with flushing money down the toilet. People are not helped in any substantial way; the underlying causes of homelessness are not addressed; and what Seattle needs is a whole lot more affordable housing. Of the passion for camp-clearing, Rankin says,
It’s moving people around to create the illusion that homelessness has been fixed when it hasn’t.
At the same time, there was some kind of trouble with the agencies assigned by the city to deal with homeless matters. Also, a group called Safe Seattle, which touts its mission as “public safety,” would like to see part of the public live unsafely in tents and dumpsters, rather than in miniature structures with heating, and access to showers and bathrooms. The group sued the city in an effort to get rid of the tiny house villages.
Meanwhile, over the past five years Seattle rents rose by close to 40 percent. With 54 people experiencing homelessness per each 10,000 residents, the city’s rate of homelessness is greater than that of New York or Los Angeles. On the other hand, Amazon did start a training program for low-income people to work in its food facilities, and allowed the nonprofit Mary’s Place temporary occupancy of an unused building.
Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, told the press,
There is not a straight line between Amazon coming and homelessness. But what I want to be clear about is that Amazon certainly contributed to the affordable housing crisis in Seattle, and the affordable housing shortage in turn absolutely contributed to the homelessness crisis in our community.
In an article for BoingBoing.net, Editor Cory Doctorow explains why some Seattle residents are now saying, “See? We told you. Never give in to bullying, it leads to nowhere good.” He writes,
Seattle’s immensely popular business tax was designed to do something about the city’s epidemic of desperate homelessness, but then Amazon threw its muscle around to get the tax canceled, mostly by threatening not to occupy its new offices in Ranier Square, a 30-story building currently under construction that Amazon was to be sole tenant of… Now, Ranier Square is advertising for new tenants to fill its 722,000 square feet, because Amazon has canceled its plans.
Amazon had been busy for a year, thinking about where to establish two new headquarters, and inviting bribes. They picked Long Island City (Queens, NY) and Virginia. Immediately, both places were drastically affected. Housing prices went up and inventory went down. Experts reported that…
[…] overall, the number of homes on the market in January in Arlington County was down 38 percent from a year ago, and the median price of what closed in Arlington last month was up 10 percent from a year ago, at $607,500… a reflection of properties that were purchased due to the Amazon effect in December.
In Long Island City, reporter Corey Kilgannon learned that the price had already been raised by at least $30,000 each, on apartments that did not yet have walls or bathtubs:
Asking prices jumped. Buyers rushed to make deals. Inactive listings turned into bidding wars. Brokers are taking bids via text message. And the rush has fueled concerns that a gentrifying neighborhood will become even less affordable, as “tech bros” push out the working class.
For three months, the real estate business boomed, until… It’s not clear who broke up with whom, but the New York engagement is off. Amazon backed out, or maybe the city rejected Amazon; some speculators got stuck with pricey properties; and nobody knows what will happen next.
The Home Coming Updates
Watch this space for news of The Home Coming, the sculpture whose figures represent several kinds of people experiencing homelessness — a veteran, a child, and an elderly woman of color. The fulfillment of years of dedicated work, The Home Coming is coming home to Austin soon!
Source: “What would it cost to house and provide treatment for Seattle’s homeless?,” SeattleTimes.com, 09/17/18
Source: “Seattle business claims homeless people trespassing on property to steal water,” KOMONews.com, 09/05/18
Source: “Seattle begins clean-up of one of city’s longest running homeless encampments,” KOMONews.com, 09/24/18
Source: “Seattle increasing removals of homeless encampments,” SeattleTimes.com, 08/21/18
Source: “Lawsuit aims to shut down city’s tiny home villages,” MyNorthwest.com, 12/07/18
Source: “Amazon HQ2 could push 800 people into homelessness, economist says,” MarketWatch.com, 11/19/18
Source: “Amazon killed Seattle’s homelessness-relief tax…,” BoingBoing.net, 02/28/19
Source: “Amazon speculators gobbled up Arlington housing market,” WTop.com, 02/25/19
Source: “An ‘Amazon Effect’ on Queens Real Estate? Here’s Why Brokers Say It’s Real,” NYTimes.com, 12/27/18
Photo credit: Wonderlane on Visualhunt/CC BY