“Strap yourselves in and get ready,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens. “We are not giving up until we scuttle this deal: scrap it, throw it in the garbage, and start the conversation all over again.”
Gianaris was speaking to a crowd of roughly 150 New Yorkers earlier today in Long Island City’s Gordan Triangle. Under a bright blue sky and amid near-freezing temperatures, Gianaris was one of a long roster of politicians, activists, and labor leaders who had assembled to speak out against the new Amazon headquarters in Long Island City.
City Council Member Jimmy Van Bremer, whose district includes LIC, was another key figure in the protest. He introduced several of his council colleagues—“the same City Council [Cuomo and de Blasio] didn’t trust to be able to grease the wheels for Jeff Bezos.”
One of those colleagues was Stephen T. Levin of Brooklyn. “We need a better deal,” said Levin. “In the neighborhoods that I represent—right over the Pulaski Bridge, in Williamsburg and Greenpoint—every single day, I have somebody come into my office from one of those communities who’s losing their apartment because the landlords are jacking up the rent.
“We’re already fighting a housing crisis—this will make the housing crisis that much worse.”
Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, also addressed the effect Amazon may have in what’s left of working-class LIC and beyond. The proposed 25,000-40,000 new highly-paid employees will all need places to live, and they’re certainly not going to be moving in to the Queensbridge Houses. “What happens to the Bronx?” he asked the crowd. “What happens to the rest of Brooklyn?”
“The jobs will not go to people who actually live here,” Westin later told Bedford + Bowery. “They’ll go to white techie bros from across the country. And the people of Queens, and people across New York, will be pushed out.”
A few minutes later, as if on cue, a white male millennial in a passing Dodge pickup truck leaned out the passenger-side window and shouted, “Amazon Prime, baby! Yeeaaaaahhh!!!”
The agreement between Amazon and the city stipulates that in order for Amazon to receive up to $1.2 billion in tax credits and $505 million in construction grant funds, “new positions may not be filled by transferring employees from other New York State locations.”
Cuomo and de Blasio’s joint announcement Tuesday came about a week after the plan started leaking to the press. It followed a high-profile search for “HQ2,” a second headquarters to be built somewhere in America. 238 cities applied for the honor.
As it turns out, Amazon will be expanding to both Queens and Northern Virginia, promising at least 25,000 new jobs to each, along with a small expansion in Nashville (5,000 jobs). Of course, NYC and the DC area were arguably the most predictable locations for an expansion all along. And neither can now rightly claim the title of “HQ2.” As State Assemblyman Ron Kim and professor Zephyr Teachout put it, the supposed contest allowed Amazon to gain “untold amounts of economic data from each bidding city.”
Mayor de Blasio has said that the Amazon jobs “need to go to everyday New Yorkers; those jobs need to go to public housing residents.” On Morning Joe today, he said the city drove a “hard bargain,” and insisted that “we are going to see in New York City alone over $13 billion in tax revenue coming to our city so that we can do things to help all New Yorkers.”
Governor Cuomo said Tuesday, in announcing Amazon’s expansion to Queens, that “the total state and city revenue that will be produced is estimated at $27.5 billion [over a decade]. The revenue-to-incentive ratio is nine to one.”
Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio appear to have circumvented the state legislature and the City Council in their highly secret negotiations with Amazon. But we now know that the company is set to receive billions of dollars in tax credits, subsidies, and grants, a.k.a. public dollars that could otherwise be spent on, say, schools, the subway, or public housing. (Also, they’ll get a helipad.)
“One of my concerns is the lack of transparency through this whole process,” said State Assemblywoman-elect Catalina Cruz. “This should have gone through the ULURP process that every other business like this one goes through. If it’s so good for the community, why didn’t it go through the usual process?”
Her complaint was a common one. “You should engage more people in the conversation before you make these kind of deals,” said Albert Arroyo of Warehouse Workers Stand Up.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson sounded a similar note in a statement yesterday arguing that the process had taken place “behind closed doors, with zero community input” and that he was “skeptical” and “very concerned.”
Yesterday, Cuomo said that Empire State Development, which will oversee rezoning and land acquisition for the 800,000-square-foot campus, “will do a project plan in cooperation with New York City and in consultation with the [Long Island City] community.”
With or without community input, the anticipated real estate boom may already be here. StreetEasy searches for LIC apartments are up about 300% since the word got out, and brokers are apparently selling units to buyers via text without ever actually showing said units.
And in case you were wondering, no, Amazon will not pay a little extra in taxes if affordable housing declines and homelessness increases as a result of their outsized footprint.
Jim Dillon, a 40-year LIC resident who lives in a rent-stabilized apartment, carried the lone physical sign of counter-protest. “Welcome Amazon!” it read. Dillon seemed unconvinced that the company would bring nearly as many new employees as it has promised, and was therefore skeptical about the impact the move would have.
But the crowd’s mood was clearly in line with the perspective of State Senator-elect Julia Salazar. “This form of corporate welfare, Salazar said, is “deeply unjust,” and “we have a responsibility to fight back against it.”
Here’s one thing Jeff Bezos might like to know about his new tech hub: in between interviews, I stood on the outskirts of the assembled crowd and looked down at my phone. I had no service.