Amazon announced on Tuesday that it was choosing New York City and Arlington, Virginia as its two new headquarters. In a blog post from Amazon, the multi-billion dollar company stated that it would be receiving a cash grant from the city of Arlington of $23 million over the next 15 years. Arlington will also preserve an additional $28 million for the headquarters based on future property tax revenues. But as the D.C. area is currently undergoing gentrification and already boasts ridiculously high rates of rent, the last thing that northern Virginia needs is a company that will most likely negatively impact the community.
I grew up in Alexandria, a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. located right next to Arlington. My abuela would drive me to the international supermarket five blocks from my home every week. The library next to my neighborhood was where all the elementary school kids would hang out after class. Restaurants served dishes from all over the world and the owners would recognize their regular customers.
In recent years, my neighborhood has been changing. Arlington County is one county over from Alexandria’s county, Fairfax. Both are currently some of the richest counties in all of the United States. I’ve seen the international markets be remodeled to the point where they resemble big chain supermarkets rather than the niche, homey appearance from my childhood. The apartment complexes I used to live in have new sleek new designs that make them unrecognizable. Prices at every and all establishments have increased to the point where my family and I no longer go to restaurants run by close family friends.
The reason for these changes is simple: gentrification and the rising rent it brings. Arlington’s cost of living is nearly double the nation’s average, with housing as the main factor for the difference. This trend of the disturbing high rise of rent has affected the Seattle area as well, where Amazon’s headquarters is currently located. Both Washington, D.C. and Seattle are considered two of the fastest gentrifying cities in the country. The problem has become so dire in the D.C. area that residents have sued the city for racist gentrification practices.
Money going toward Amazon’s headquarters could instead be going toward much needed reshaping of the community. Activists from the D.C. area have been calling on local government to focus on the social, racial and economic inequalities in the region that locals fear a company like Amazon would only further enforce. The Stephen Fuller Institute found that the Amazon headquarters would ultimately increase the demand for housing, most likely causing housing prices to rise as well. Although finding out exactly how much Amazon will impact housing rates is difficult to determine, locals understand that there is a possibility of the company’s arrival resulting in lower wage workers to move further away from D.C. and deeper into Virginia. In turn, this shift would result in higher fixed rent prices and higher costs for commuting in an area that already has some of the worst traffic in the country.
But regardless of these concerns, local government continued to push incentives towards the company, with both New York and Virginia collectively offering Amazon over $2 billion. Amazon claimed that it would create a total of 50,000 jobs, with each headquarter offering 25,000. While this figure is accurate, Amazon also said that these jobs would be created over the course of 10 years, meaning that the possible positive effects of the company on the community will only be seen in the long-term.
In an area as diverse as northern Virginia, the threat of higher rent and higher rates of inequality shouldn’t fall on its most vulnerable communities. Lower-middle class and immigrant families shouldn’t feel pressured to leave the counties they’ve called home for decades because of unaffordable costs of living. But with the new headquarters in tow, I can’t help but feel like that’s the exact message Arlington is sending to my community — that they don’t deem people’s contributions to the city as valuable as those from a mega-corporation like Amazon.
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Email Melanie Pineda at [email protected]