Several Brooklyn elected officials have voiced their concerns and skepticism about Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio coming to an agreement with mega-online retailer Amazon to bring its second headquarters to Long Island City (LIC) in Queens.
Under the deal the online behemoth will receive anywhere from $1.5 to $3 billion in subsidies depending on how the final General Project Plan (GPP) looks, including the company’s projections to bring 25,000 high paying jobs to the city. Additionally, the company will get several other perks such a helipad for Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and other company executives. what es a $1.5 billion tax credit, with no discussions with and/or input from New York officials and community stakeholders before the deal was struck.
“Although the intention of choosing our city was to bring economic opportunities, as a public official and as a New Yorker, I would have liked a healthy dialogue between us and Amazon of the effects that such a development will have on New York City,” says Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park). “Going forward, we are demanding a level of transparency and a plan for greater economic equity and inclusion. I am willing to sit down with Amazon to discuss and ensure that there are community benefit agreements, initiatives for diversity in leadership positions, and plans for preservation for worker’s rights.
Bichotte noted that Amazon claimed in its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that it will offer the city a number of programs in return for tax credit subsidies. Notably, it includes $180 million in funding for infrastructure improvements, which is said to entail transportation.
This is undoubtedly for the subways systems, buses, and the general area surrounding Long Island City that will be strained with the influx of commuters. However, it can’t be said for sure whether these agendas will be met. On top of the uncertainty, there are a myriad of other issues that aren’t addressed in Amazon’s MOU, said Bichotte.
Bichotte said she’d also like to see something in the MOU protect small businesses, and that discourse on the GPP could lead to small loans, grants and other services for these small businesses, allowing them to remain competitive and sustainable.
“While inclusion for Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses (MWBEs) is partially accounted for in the MOU, we want to ensure that there’s a 30% commitment goal of government contracts awarded to MWBEs in line with the State’s MWBE goal. Also, positions of leadership within Amazon HQ2 should be available to minorities and women. Amazon currently has only 25% of its leadership positions occupied by women and only 26% of non-white minorities in these positions. We are hoping that Amazon’s new headquarters will be representative of the population of New York City, which is at least 60% minorities and women,” said Bichotte.
Bichotte also noted that affordable housing could take a hit with Amazon coming to LIC, noting that after Amazon established itself in Seattle, the median rental prices shot up by 41%, hastening the affordable housing crisis there. These effects could have been tempered if we were allowed to have a dialogue with Amazon. In addition, initiatives could have been put in place to subsidize NYCHA and other housing agencies, she said.
City Council Member Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood) that while he signed onto a letter encouraging Amazon to consider New York City as a site for its new headquarters, the last thing he expected would be a secret back room deal, reached to undermine and cut out all of the stakeholders in this issue.
Communities throughout New York City are in need of economic development, and I had hoped that if Amazon expressed interest in expanding in the city, a productive conversation could be held between the city, state, community, unions, local business owners, advocates, and more,” said Williams.
“It is clear that Amazon intends to move forward in its plan without adequate dialogue and compromise. The governor, and the mayor alongside him, have been willing to circumvent that conversation for expediency and at the expense of community involvement, lured by promises Amazon made when offered extravagant incentives and disregarding the basic responsibilities of the process,” said Williams. “It is telling to me that these two executives could not get together to help struggling NYCHA tenants or to fix public transportation, but were able and eager to arrange this deal. I am opposing this deal as it stands, and will do all in my power to fight its implementation.”
City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brownsville, East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East Flatbush), who chairs the council’s Public Housing Committee, said while she understands the need for jobs and economic opportunities across New York, she also understands the importance of transparency and allowing for genuine input in major development deals with a direct impact on communities of color.
“Amazon is not only taking over public space and receiving some $3 billion in incentives, but this deal is happening without going through the ULURP process and absent discussions with local electeds, leaders and community residents. It is my hope that residents from the surrounding NYCHA developments benefit from the move of this tech giant and not just low-level temporary jobs thrown at us during demolition and construction. A job fair is not enough, we need actual jobs, schools, renovated housing and healthy green space. For far too long, NYCHA residents have been left out of the picture but its time for them to be part of the decision-making at the table. The time is now for residents to see action,” said Ampry-Samuel.
City Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington) called the Amazon Deal an assault on democracy.
“Giving the world’s richest man a boutique set of tax subsidies and a boutique land-use process complete with a helipad, through a deal hidden from the public by a non-disclosure agreement, negotiated as part of a Hunger Games-style bidding process is corrupt and offensive. Amazon is welcome to come to NYC…if they pay their full share of taxes, abide by our city’s land-use processes, and play by our rules. Nothing more. But nothing less,” said Lander.