Amazon donates $8M for affordable housing in ‘HQ regions,’ launches employee matching program

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Amazon’s Seattle headquarters under construction to accommodate its growing workforce. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon is donating a total of $8 million across Seattle and Arlington, Va., to non-profits that provide housing for people experiencing homelessness.

In its original headquarters town, Seattle, Amazon will give $5 million to a new fund created by Plymouth Housing. The non-profit operates permanent supportive housing for people exiting homelessness or otherwise struggling to secure a home. Plymouth is launching the fund at an event Tuesday in Seattle where other tech companies in the region are expected to announce commitments.

The remaining $3 million will be spent in Arlington, Va. where Amazon is constructing a second headquarters. The funds will go to the Arlington Community Foundation, an organization that donates to non-profits in the area through grants and scholarships. The $3 million is earmarked for affordable housing for low-income families and veterans, according to Amazon.

Amazon is also launching a temporary employee matching program in its “HQ regions,” as the company described the Seattle and Arlington areas in a news release. From now until Sept. 30, Amazon will match employee donations to 20 non-profits that focus on housing and homelessness in Seattle and Arlington, up to $5 million. Amazon has faced criticism for being slow to implement an employee matching program as many of its tech industry peers have.

For years, Seattle has struggled to get its arms around a homelessness crisis driven by the booming tech industry, an influx of newcomers, and skyrocketing housing costs. But this year’s annual point-in-time count offered a glimmer of hope. Volunteers found an overall 8 percent decrease in the region’s homeless population, though the data collection methods are imperfect.

Amazon’s announcement comes exactly one year after the conclusion of a heated battle between the company and the Seattle City Council over a tax designed to address the city’s homelessness crisis.

Protestors carry signs that read ‘Tax Amazon’ on the company’s campus during the 2017 ‘head tax’ fight. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

The so-called “head tax” would have levied a per-employee tax on Seattle’s top-grossing companies to fund affordable housing projects and homeless services. Some supporters of the tax targeted Amazon specifically, marching across the tech giant’s Seattle campus. In response, Amazon froze construction on one of its new buildings and threatened to slow growth in its hometown. Ultimately, the City Council repealed the tax less than a month after unanimously passing it. If enacted, the tax would have raised about $47 million annually.

Amazon executives are expected at the launch event for Plymouth Housing’s new fund. They will be joined by Microsoft Philanthropies corporate VP Mary Snapp.

Plymouth Housing currently operates 14 apartment buildings in Seattle and serves more than 1,000 residents a year. With the new fund, Plymouth plans to nearly double the number of individuals it serves in the Seattle region.

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