After Seattle burned down in 1889, prosperous brothel madam Lou Graham helped to save the city by making private loans to business owners after banks decided the city was a poor investment. Her investments went far toward rebuilding Seattle’s commercial core, and even supported the schools in King County after her death. So, it is not an exaggeration to say that private, non-bank loans are a part of the literal foundations of Seattle.

Amazon is, in no small part, an heir to that legacy. And it is stepping up to honor that. Amazon has promised $185.5 million in loans and grants to the King County Housing Authority, to help fund housing solutions. The first use the Housing Authority has planned for the money is to buy three apartment buildings in Bellevue, which will be maintained as 470 units of low- to medium-income housing.

The sum is part of Amazon’s new pledge to direct over $2 billion in grants and loans to three cities where they have major holdings, for the purpose of protecting or creating affordable housing. Amazon is often criticized, with merit, for causing critical rises in housing prices, so this is a massive acknowledgment of its role making cities unfriendly to the working class.

The goal is to “help local families achieve long-term stability while building strong, inclusive communities,” according to a statement by Amazon CEO And founder Jeff Bezos.

Amazon intends to charge 1.85 percent interest on the loans over a twenty-year span, approximately a fifth of the interest charged on a federal student loan. The loan, in King County at least, is expected to cover 45 percent of the cost of the buildings, for a goal of 99 years.

This brings King County nearly halfway to their goal of 1,000 units of new affordable housing.

“We need more of this, scaled up, no question,” said Stephen Norman, executive director of the King County Housing Authority. “But we have to start somewhere.”

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

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