The City Council kicked off a series of important hearings at the close of 2018 scrutinizing Amazon’s outrageous HQ2 deal with New York City, focusing on “exposing the closed-door” nature of negotiations. It was a step in the right direction, considering the fact that Queens residents and businesses were left in the dark throughout the entire process. But what taxpayers need most before any plans move forward this year is a complete and independent HQ2 community impact study.
With nearly $3 billion in tax incentives on the line, New Yorkers deserve a guarantee that Long Island City and the surrounding communities will not suffer the same fate as Seattle, Amazon’s current home. From strained local infrastructure and terrible traffic to skyrocketing housing prices and soaring rates of homelessness, Seattle has paid a steep price for being Amazon’s backyard. In fact, Seattle’s middle class has been all but decimated, forcing many families who had built a life there to pack up and move. New Yorkers should not be made to simply take Amazon’s word for it that this time will be different.
There needs to be a no-nonsense analysis that addresses five key areas of concern regarding Amazon’s impact on Long Island City: it must clearly lay out how Amazon’s half-headquarters will affect jobs, rent, subway crowding, education funding and the environment.
Amazon originally promised 50,000 jobs to HQ2’s home city, but walked that back in an 11th-hour decision to split the headquarters between two cities. Now Amazon says Long Island City will get 25,000 jobs, but it is unclear if all of these positions will be filled with local talent. It also remains to be seen if Amazon’s hires will reflect the demographics of the community, which is more than 40 percent Latino, or if its lack of diversity will persist. Amazon must provide clarity on these questions, and analysts must crunch the numbers to find out exactly what the headquarters will mean for the local economy.
Housing affordability is another issue that must be front and center, especially with brokers already selling luxury condos via text message. It’s plain to see that long-time residents, who made Long Island City and the surrounding areas what they are today, are going to be displaced in droves. Families and young professionals who cannot afford a sudden rent hike have a right to know how much prices are likely to increase, and small businesses in the area need to know that they will be able to keep the lights on and the doors open.
Workers who depend on the subway to get to and from work should have an assurance that the subway will not be brought to its knees. The New York City subway is already in disrepair and bogged down by long delays. Can the 7, G, E and M lines handle more riders without shutting down during rush hours? It might be the case that they can, but there should be a clear-eyed evaluation of what repairs or improvements need to be made in preparation — and perhaps Amazon can cough up some money to support the fixes.
Speaking of limited funds, will the nearly $3 billion in tax incentives going to Amazon for its headquarters in Long Island City stymie critical investment in public schools? The fact that Amazon is planning to build its headquarters where a school was supposed to be built is a clue that concern is warranted. Queens schools are struggling as it is — 117% of high schools are overcrowded, kindergarten students are being waitlisted, and pre-K classes are taking place in temporary trailers.
Ever since Superstorm Sandy, which wreaked havoc on Queens, Long Island City residents have endured one flood after another. It must be a top priority for local officials to ensure that Amazon’s headquarter campus is designed in such a way that it will not pose an increased flood risk for nearby residents. This deal should not be allowed to bypass the standard land-use review that every other development project has to go through.
Simply put, the stakes are far too high to trudge along with blind faith that HQ2 will not be an absolute nightmare for New York City. If there is a devil lurking in the details — and it sure seems like there is a lot to hide — then New Yorkers have a right to know about it before their pockets are emptied to one of the richest companies on the planet.