Paying a premium: Officials’ push for Amazon HQ could make boro less affordable, locals say

Paying a premium: Officials’ push for Amazon HQ could make boro less affordable, locals say
File photo by Elizabeth Graham

Local officials’ are pushing to bring Amazon’s second world headquarters — and thousands of workers — to Brooklyn, but some say not everyone is going to save on the deal, including those living on the cheap in Sunset Park and Williamsburg.

“It would definitely put upward pressure on the housing market and make things less affordable,” said Jakub Nowak, a broker with Marcus and Millichap.

Borough President Adams and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce executives started courting the online marketplace last week after its honchos announced they are accepting proposals for a $5-billion new home base that will house 50,000 workers.

Housing prices in Seattle, the home of Amazon’s original headquarters, have risen faster than anywhere else in the country since the company opened there, according to a Seattle Times report.

Adams named Sunset Park and Williamsburg as possible locations for the business. Both nabes boast huge office spaces, including Industry City and the Brooklyn Army Terminal in the former, and the latter’s in-construction 25 Kent complex.

But activists in largely minority, working-class Sunset Park say its residents are already battling gentrification as developers propose erecting hundreds of swanky new apartments and townhouses in the nabe, and bringing in a headquarters for the online juggernaut would only drive housing prices up.

“These types of tech companies have an impact on local markets including residential and commercial real estate, both of which are in extremely precarious state as it is in Sunset Park,” said Ryan Chavez, infrastructure coordinator for neighborhood environmental advocacy group Uprose.

And commercial rents also jumped in Seattle following the debut of Amazon’s hub for highly paid corporate employees, pushing out many mom-and-pop shops — a forced evacuation that is also happening in Brooklyn as real-estate costs skyrocket to prices that only big chains can afford.

Companies that will employ area residents with green jobs should be courted instead, Chavez said, because they will provide the type of work the blue-collar neighborhood needs to thrive.

“When we’re talking about the industrial zone we believe it ought to be used for green industries and manufacturing, which serve the city’s climate-adaptation needs and provide working-class jobs to the local community,” he said. “We don’t see the second Amazon headquarters as doing either of those things.”

National chains such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bed, Bath, and Beyond recently opened in Sunset Park, and Amazon would bring even more big-box business — and the type of resident it attracts — to the nabe at a time when it needs room to breathe, according to Chavez.

“A development of this nature would directly undermine a very fragile industrial market locally,” he said.

But Adams said he is not convinced that the workspace would jeopardize affordability in the borough, noting there are protections such as land-use rules to keep housing affordable.

“It’s not something I’m concerned with in bringing in Amazon,” he said. “The borough is not going to become a place that is unaffordable because Amazon is here, it will do that if we don’t do our jobs to make sure tenants are protected.”

Chavez, however, said the spike in Seattle real estate’s value that followed the opening of Amazon’s home base there is reason enough to suspect prices in Kings County would soar, too.

“There is simply no end to the empirical evidence, both quantitative and qualitative, that demonstrates the mind-blowing impact that Amazon headquarters has had on affordability in Seattle,” he said. “To downplay the risk of similar impacts in a working class community of color like Sunset Park is just surreal.”

A Brooklyn world headquarters would further expand the online marketplace’s huge footprint in New York City, where it already owns distribution centers at Sunset Park’s Liberty View Industrial Plaza and in Manhattan, a book store on the distant island, and a planned Staten Island warehouse.

Amazon is accepting pitches for second home base locations until Oct. 19.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Prime location?: Borough President Adams also suggested Amazon look for a new home base in Williamsburg, where the massive 25 Kent office complex is being built.