Amazon puts 7,000 jobs on hold because of a tax that would help Seattle’s homeless population

Amazon contributed to the housing crisis in Seattle, and now it doesn't want to do anything about it.

Jeff Bezos, founder and Chief Executive of Amazon.com and owner of The Washington Post, participates in a conversation during the event "Transformers: Pushing the Boundaries of Knowledge," May 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Washington Post hosted the event focusing on "breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, commercial space travel, education and health care."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Jeff Bezos, founder and Chief Executive of Amazon.com and owner of The Washington Post, participates in a conversation during the event "Transformers: Pushing the Boundaries of Knowledge," May 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Washington Post hosted the event focusing on "breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, commercial space travel, education and health care." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has more money than he knows what to do with.

While visiting Germany in late April to pick up the Axel Springer Award for innovation, Bezos gave an exclusive interview to Business Insider about how it feels to be the richest man in the world.

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Bezos, who has a net worth of $130.8 billion, told the outlet that the only logical way to spend his money is by funding space tourism through his spaceflight company, Blue Origin.

“The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel. That is basically it,” Bezos said.

What Bezos does not want to spend money on at all is helping the homeless population in the city where his company is located.

On Wednesday, Amazon announced the company would halt the construction of a new building in downtown Seattle it was planning to build, jeopardizing some 7,000 jobs.

Why? Because the company opposes a tax being considered by the City Council.

The tax targets 500-600 businesses in the city that gross at least $20 million a year. The companies would be charged a “head tax” at $500 per employee. In 2021, the head tax would be replaced by a 0.7 percent payroll tax. The payroll tax would windup costing Amazon more than the initial head tax, considering Seattle Amazon employees are paid about an average of $110,000 per year, according to data from job-reviews site Glassdoor.

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“I can confirm that pending the outcome of the head-tax vote by City Council, Amazon has paused all construction planning on our Block 18 project in downtown Seattle and is evaluating options to sub-lease all space in our recently leased Rainer Square building,” a spokesperson for Amazon told The Seattle Times.

The city council is expected to vote on the tax on May 14.

The city estimates the tax would raise an estimated $75 million annually, with Amazon paying roughly $20 million in 2019 and 2020. One might think for a company that pulled in $1.6 billion last quarter, they could afford to help out the city of Seattle and its most vulnerable residents, especially considering the extent to which Amazon’s presence in the city has exacerbated the housing crisis there. 

Since opening their headquarters in Seattle, Amazon has pitched in to help the city’s homelessness effort.

The company has stepped up to help recently on the homeless issue, on its own terms. Two years ago it gave a non-profit shelter the use of an abandoned hotel on Amazon’s campus to house 65 families at a time. Throughout 2017, Amazon made $1 million dollar match donations in cities where employees live and work.

No amount of philanthropy, however, can truly reverse the damage already done.

Since 2010, when Amazon opened its first headquarters in the South Lake Union area of Seattle, housing costs have skyrocketed.

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The median cost of a single-family home has more than doubled to $820,000, and rents have increased 64 percent, according to the Seattle Times. The average two-bedroom home in Seattle costs more than $2,000 per month. Only a third of condominiums in Seattle are priced below $500,000.

The city reached an official state of emergency two years ago as a result of the homelessness crisis. 169 deaths related to homelessness were recorded in King County last year, where Seattle is located.

Amazon has come under fire in recent weeks after it was revealed the mega-corporation paid no taxes on its 2017 profits, which totaled roughly $3 billion dollars. The company is able to do this by utilizing a number of tax credits and exemptions built into the U.S. federal tax code — credits and exemptions that were not fully addressed by the tax overhaul that passed in December of 2017.

The company has also been criticized for how it treats its employees. Amazon workers have reported sub-par working conditions, including below zero temperatures in the winter and sweltering heat in the summer inside the warehouses, sustaining on-site injuries, and long hours with below minimum wage pay.

This article has been updated with additional background information from an Amazon spokesperson that the company has provided some resources to help the homeless crisis in Seattle and other cities where Amazon employees live.