By STEVE LEIGH

— SEATTLE — On June 6, Amazon announced it will provide $2 billion in loans and grants to provide affordable housing near its centers of employment. Amazon has pledged $185.5 to King County Housing Authority in the Seattle area. Arlington, Va., and Nashville, Tenn., are also recipients. This program is expected to provide 20,000 affordable housing units over time.

Jeff Bezos , head of Amazon and the second richest man in the world is quite proud of himself. He said that he wanted to “help local families achieve long-term stability while building strong, inclusive communities.”

This support to affordable housing in the Seattle area is needed in part because of Amazon. Increased employment at Amazon has driven up housing prices. The average apartment in Seattle now rents for close to $2000 per month. Full-time minimum wage workers in Seattle have to spend about 70% of their income on average rent—not even counting utilities. This is true even though the minimum wage in Seattle is now over $16 per hour.

So far, the announced money is in the form of loans. Amazon will receive 1.85% interest, at least triple the amount that ordinary depositors get in most banks today.

Though it is seen by some as charity, it is anything but that. For Amazon, this is simply a good investment. It gets a decent return and helps allow for a more stable workforce. Amazon is not alone in this. Microsoft promised to spend about $500 million on loans for affordable housing in 2019 and later added  $250 million to that figure. Microsoft has the same motives.

Will these loans solve the housing crisis in the Seattle area or the other areas? Hardly! The private consulting firm McKinsey & Company says that the Seattle area needs an additional $450 million to $1.1 billion  in public spending every year to tackle the crisis of homelessness. 

Maybe Amazon and Microsoft, Bezos and Bill Gates, are doing all they can to deal with the housing crisis? Not really! Since the onset of the COVID crisis, billionaires in the U.S. have run away with nearly a trillion dollars in new wealth! As of Dec. 7, Bezos alone has increased his wealth by $71.4 billion. His wealth has risen by 63.2% between March and December. Poor Bill Gates, now only the third richest human, just gained $21 billion in this period, a mere 20% of his previous wealth (see link below).

This means that Bezos could fund the Seattle area’s urgent housing needs for at least 70 years just based on his new wealth since March. If he did this, he would still be obscenely wealthy.

For these corporations, investment in housing is just that—investment. It is not a charity. Amazon and Microsoft certainly don’t deserve praise for their investments. Even if it were an outright gift, it would be completely inadequate.

Even large-scale charity would be no solution to the housing crisis. Why should the public rely on the whims of the rich to solve this problem? The wealth of these billionaires has been created by the hard work of those they employ and exploit. Bezos does not track orders, load trucks, deliver goods, or work in a warehouse. His business depends on taxpayer money to provide roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. Why does he get to decide what to do with the wealth that the working class has created?

Instead of relying on charity or investment decisions by the rich, it is time to seize their wealth and use it for the good of people. In the long run, working people need to take it all. For right now, even taking some of it could go a long way toward providing homes for everyone. Taxing the rich is not just a nice, fair idea.  It is an absolute necessity—especially for those huddling in tents and under bridges in the cold and wet winter.

Photo: Homeless encampment in Seattle (David Lee)

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