Seattle backs tax on companies like Amazon to help the homeless

Associated Press


Seattle leaders on Monday unanimously approved a tax on large businesses such as Amazon and Starbucks to fund the fight against homelessness after weeks of heated debate and raucous hearings.

The city council backed a compromise plan that will charge large businesses about $275 per full-time worker each year, lower than the $500 per worker initially proposed. The so-called head tax would raise about $48 million a year to pay for affordable housing and homeless services.

The debate over who should pay to solve a housing crisis exacerbated by Seattle’s rapid economic growth comes amid skyrocketing housing prices and rising homelessness. The Seattle region had the third-highest number of homeless people in the U.S. and saw 169 homeless deaths last year.

Council members who sponsored the initial proposal said $48 million annually wasn’t enough to address the city’s urgent housing needs but conceded they couldn’t get the six votes needed for a larger tax and to override a potential veto by the mayor, who favored a smaller tax and faced intense pressure from businesses.

Amazon raised the stakes this month when it halted construction planning on a 17-story tower near its hometown headquarters as it awaited a vote. It also was rethinking filling office space in another leased building. The two office spaces would accommodate about 7,000 new Amazon jobs.

Amazon vice president Drew Herdener said the company was disappointed by the council’s decision to introduce “a tax on jobs.”

Businesses and others who say the tax is misguided and potentially harmful question whether the city is effectively using the millions of dollars it spends on homelessness each year.

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