Will Amazon be Naughty or Nice?

Members of PATHE marched from the downtown YMCA to City Hall Tuesday night for better transit, affordable housing, and more school funding. Some members of the City Council want to put the Amazon deal on hold until city workers get cost of living raises.

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — Better watch out, you better not cry. Amazon is coming to town. Affordable housing advocates wonder where they will be sleeping when it does.

About fifty people gathered at the downtown YMCA Tuesday night to let city leaders know Jeff Bezos doesn’t need a $17.5 million handout from Nashville taxpayers. He’s worth $112 billion already. 

Bezos is Amazon’s founder and the richest man on earth. Total incentives from the city and state, including tax breaks and cash for 5,000 new jobs amounts to over $100 million. Those incentives sweetened the deal for Bezos to open an Operations Center downtown at the Nashville Yards where the Lifeway building once stood. 

Mayor David Briley told The Tennessean that Metro’s subsidy was moderate and Gov. Haslam called it a good deal. It is subject to approval by the City Council.

“It’s a relatively minor investment for the city,” Briley said. “We will collect those revenues back in sales tax and property taxes associated with these developments very quickly,” he said.

Bezos plans to invest $230 million to build one million square feet of office space in two buildings where workers will be making an average of $150,000 per year. Bezos is actually only going to pay about $130 million because he’ll get about half of his money back in the seven-year deal.

“We need our Council and our Mayor’s office to be much more responsible in their decision-making about Amazon coming here,” said Jackie Sims, interim lead organizer for the People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing, and Employment (PATHE). 

Sims said five thousand new workers making at least three times the average salary in Nashville and commuting to the city center will create traffic problems and drive housing costs up significantly.

“Nashville is a great city and we welcome companies coming here but we expect them to be good neighbors. We expect them to be responsible. We expect them to do the least amount of harm that is possible as our city continues to grow,” she said.

Working people, tradesmen, the homeless, and seniors on fixed incomes will not directly benefit from the new Amazon logistics center. They could indirectly benefit if the project generates a bigger city budget to pay for better bus service, schools, transportation improvements and the like.

These kinds of deals, often called public-private partnerships, almost always benefit the private partner but not always the public. Touted by officials as win-win situations, such massive development projects can bring on big changes and with them there are always winners and losers.

“I moved here from Seattle recently and the biggest reason I left was the high cost of living in Seattle. A big part of that is Amazon and I don’t want to see the same thing happen here,” said Sam Knox. In Seattle, he used to pay $700 for a bedroom in a house with roommates. When Amazon came to town, his rent jumped to $1,000 a month. 

Residents in Chicago, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and New York have organized opposition to Amazon setting up shop in their cities. In Seattle, city leaders passed a $275 per employee tax to house the city’s 12,000 homeless. Amazon threatened to halt construction and leave town. The city rescinded the “Amazon tax”. In May, 2018 American Prospect magazine published an article entitled: “Amazon to Seattle: The Housing Crisis Is Not Our Problem”.

PATHE does not want Metro to give Amazon a dime. They want the city to build at least 5,000 more affordable homes to address the “Amazon effect” on the local housing market. And they want a new transit referendum that focuses on the needs of working people and better public bus service. 

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