When Amazon announced that it is searching for a city to host a second headquarters, cities across the country lunged at the opportunity. Media releases, slick marketing pieces, and even some goofy social media stunts were soon rolling out of cities from Boston to Los Angeles, including a few communities here in North Carolina. Lost in the initial rush to lure a potentially multi-billion dollar project, is the very real risk that the deal could deepen existing economic problems, not fix them, and could create even more distance between affluent white color workers and the rest of the Research Triangle.
While many workers and retirees in Raleigh would see little or no direct benefit from Amazon locating here, the costs could be very real. A new analysis by the real estate search company Zillow estimates that the median rent could increase by more than $300 a year if Amazon locates in the Raleigh. With gentrification and increasing housing costs already driving families from their homes in many parts of Raleigh, this new hit could be devastating. According to the NC Housing Coalition, over 105,000 households (28 percent of all households) in Wake County already struggle to afford a roof over their heads, so accelerating the rise of housing prices could force even more families, working people, and retirees to move out of their neighborhoods.
Amazon often touts the highly-paid jobs that it will create, but history shows that a huge share of those positions would go to people who don’t yet live in North Carolina. Amazon fills its best and most lucrative jobs with talent from around the world, so there’s no guarantee that it will create many opportunities for communities and families where the need is greatest. That means that most working and retired people in Raleigh could face escalating housing costs but incomes that are not growing apace, eventually squeezing them out of communities they may have known for decades, or generations.
Wherever Amazon lands, that community better be ready to counteract this economic pressure that can transform working communities into exclusive affluent enclaves. The process has already played out in San Francisco and Seattle and is starting to happen in a few places in North Carolina, the Research Triangle being the most advanced case. If Amazon partners with local communities to create inclusive and sustainable development, great, but if the company is just looking for a hand-out while fueling the winds of gentrification, we can do better.