The following is an unpublished Op-Ed written with my friend Nathan Hunt, community organizer, theology monger, nonviolent practitioner, and all around swell guy. He keep the blog For Shalom, which you should check out not least because he's a lot smarter than me.
With the announcement that Denver has made the top 20 finalists for the new Amazon headquarters, I thought it appropriate to publish here.
We join the Denver Post editors in urging Denver elected officials to resist the temptation to compete in a “race to the bottom.” An edge gained by tax discounts is always tenuous, vulnerable to the next state or city’s reckless cut, and often relies on austerity measures which harm the most vulnerable communities.
We suggest Denver issue a challenge for Jeff Bezos and Amazon: shape the next 50 years of urban economic community development and corporate/government partnership not only in Denver but across the United States for equity and sustainability.
This challenge is important in the light of a recent Zillow report on the connection between rising housing costs and homelessness. Zillow found that in an urban center like Los Angeles, 2000 people would fall into homelessness with a 5% increase in rents. Denver should not pretend it is immune to these kinds of market forces. Amazon adding 50,000 high-paid employees to the population would be a disaster for residents earning 50% of Area Median Income and below. Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city by population, has shown it is possible to head off the connection between rising rents and homelessness by building more attainable housing. Denver can and should provide housing as Houston has done, but we can do more.
Far from Denver courting Amazon, Amazon ought to court Denver, a city that is first and foremost the people of this place. Our position is that Denver is not improved unless all of its people have an equitable share in that improvement. We have some questions for the company to determine if it is a suitable partner.
- Would Amazon’s arrival improve education for all classes regardless of neighborhood, race or class?
- Would Amazon’s arrival improve people’s ability to attain and remain in quality housing with easy access to work, school, groceries, and play?
- Would Amazon’s presence provide good jobs for the people already living here who want them?
- Would Amazon help Denver become the ecologically sustainable city we need in an era of increased environmental instability, including natural disasters like droughts, floods, fires, and hurricanes?
If the answer to these questions is not a strong “yes,” then we suggest Amazon build its new headquarters in a city with lower expectations of for its corporate neighbors.
Amazon says that the city chosen for its second headquarters will enjoy $5 billion in construction investment and estimates that its investments in Seattle between 2010 and 2016 resulted in an additional $38 billion to the city's economy. The way this money is allocated matters if we are prioritizing the common good of all Denver citizens. Our recommendations for investment allocation follows:
- 20% toward Community Land Trusts to retain neighborhoods and allow working class neighborhoods to withstand gentrification
- 20% toward new attainable housing creation, principally invested for those earning below 30% Area Median Income
- 20% toward rail, bike, and bus infrastructure and clean energy investment
- 20% toward public education and workforce training to move local people into Amazon-esque jobs
- 20% toward commons investments like parks, public spaces, arts, and local food systems
Faceless economic investment mechanisms are not enough. A good corporate neighbor would value and invest in our local assets. True social responsibility would mean adopting an “anchor institution mission” by prioritizing local hires and whenever possible making procurement and construction contracts with local worker-owned, people of color owned, and/or women owned businesses.
As the Denver community considers inviting a corporation like Amazon to be one of our neighbors and economic partners, we must ask: how would Amazon contribute to a city where everyone can thrive—particularly people who are currently marginalized and struggling? If Amazon cannot affirmatively meet the challenge detailed above, we see no reason to welcome the corporation to our city.