Amazon HQ2

P4 2018

Image: people holding a banner that says “Amazon will bring a crisis to PGH. HQ2 fails the P4 test.” (referencing the City of Pittsburgh and Heinz endowments P4 metrics that advocate for equity and equitable development)

We want a Pittsburgh for all. We believe in a city that is inclusive, a city that is one of opportunity for people of all backgrounds, a city that is accountable to its people, and a city that is equitable. 

Amazon HQ2 in Pittsburgh would be a catastrophe — it would cause a housing crisis like no one has ever seen in Pittsburgh, leading to thousands of people and families being displaced. The day that the HQ2 decision is made will catalyze a frenzy of housing speculation by investors on vacant and occupied homes across Pittsburgh, as we now see both in Seattle and in East Liberty, where speculation on housing has driven out long term residents because of a couple hundred tech jobs. It would mean a redirection of our resources and money to serve the needs of wealthy, mostly white high tech workers relocating to the city, and the tax breaks and incentives being offered would mean a deterioration of public education and other vital public services. Please see below for a list of frequently asked questions,  a list of great resources, and some of the work we’ve done to highlight these issues.


Amazon has promised to bring over 50,000 jobs to the city it chooses for its HQ2. This is much needed for residents in Pittsburgh. Why would you oppose this?

How many of these 50,000 high paying, high tech jobs will actually go to longtime Pittsburgh residents currently in low wage jobs? More likely is that the jobs that will be open to most Pittsburgh residents will be low-paying jobs notorious for horrific working conditions and exploitation. The Pittsburgh residents accessing the low wage service sector jobs will also likely find themselves far away from the Amazon HQ2 site, as housing prices skyrocket within the city.

The Allegheny Conference published a study which showed that by 2025, there will be a 80,000 jobs that are unfilled because of a mismatch between skills and job vacancies, and lack of immigration to the city. The problem, then, is not the lack of jobs in the region, but the failure to successfully train residents for the anticipated job vacancies, as well as a failure to attract new residents to Pittsburgh. We would also ask what the Allegheny Conference is doing to address these shortcomings: for instance, the Conference could contribute more public funding towards technical and labor training for Pittsburgh residents, as the Allegheny Conference members are the overwhelming beneficiaries of any investments to address these problems. In addition, the Allegheny Conference should not be negotiating for Amazon HQ2 alongside the city, and be arbiters of the use of our taxpayer money, because they stand to gain so much from the “sale” of Pittsburgh to Amazon.

Can we negotiate a benefits agreement with Amazon that would mitigate the harms that you say will happen?

Amazon is one of the wealthiest corporations on the planet. We could not enforce a community benefits agreement between the Hill District and the Pens – what hope do we have of enforcing anything with Amazon? Our city is offering billions in taxpayer dollars as an incentive for Amazon HQ2 to come. What negotiating power do we anticipate having once we’ve given away our  leverage? Any reasonable person would assume that Amazon would not willingly return the billions Pittsburgh has offered them, in order to address not only the existing funding crisis for our basic needs– including our lead water crisis, affordable housing crisis, and school and transit funding crisis–  but to tackle the far more serious demands that their presence will create.

What if Amazon could help pay into an affordable housing fund to build more affordable housing for Pittsburgh residents? 

In Seattle, housing prices have increase 57% in the last 6 years to $2,100/month. In a single month, March 2018, median home prices in Seattle increased $43,000 to reach an astonishing $819,500. Median home prices are projected to surpass 1 million dollars by the end of 2018. The rising costs have not only displaced an enormous number of renters, but 40% of the foreclosures in the last few years in Seattle have been homeowners who have owned their homes for 5 years or more, 20% of the have owned their homes for 10 years or more.

Amazon has a track record of vehemently opposing the call to pay their fair share. Even if, by some miracle, we were able to hold Amazon to an agreement, any “donation” they make into a housing fund would be a drop in the bucket and wouldn’t even begin to address the harm they will have caused. We already have a massive shortage of 17,000 -21,000 units of affordable housing in the city, a shortage that will increase exponentially if we “win” HQ2.

How would Amazon HQ2 improve the lives of people displaced because of rising rents, taxes, and housing prices?

Why is a transit organization opposing Amazon HQ2?

Transit justice and housing justice go hand in hand. Mass displacement of residents means mass displacement of transit riders to areas with little to no transit access. We are displacing residents from their communities and lives and then stranding them in transit deserts.

We do not want to see our city, our resources, and our money going to line the pockets of Amazon executives while our residents and communities suffer and are left to scramble for scraps on the back end of these deals.

Why are we always told that we must either accept the best we can get are these scraps or nothing? Why do we have billions of dollars available to throw at developers but none to meet the basic needs of our communities?

Seattle and the surrounding region have two transit agencies with a budget of several billion dollars. They had to add service just to transport Amazon’s interns. Port Authority has an annual operating budget of just $419 million. Most importantly: who will be prioritized for transit infrastructure projects? Is Pittsburgh prepared to spend several billion dollars in transit infrastructure and operations to accommodate Amazon? We will have an increased need for expanding transit service to Pittsburgh’s outlying boroughs and municipalities, and a diminished capacity to address it, because so much transit infrastructure and operating costs will need to go towards serving Amazon’s own employees.

If you believe that Amazon HQ2 will cause all this harm, is it ethical to suggest that they should go elsewhere and inflict this harm on another city? 

We believe that communities everywhere have a right to their own autonomy and self-determination and should not be forced to negotiate for scraps from large corporations, particularly when our public dollars are being bargained away. We take the directive from communities and organizers on the ground in each of the cities for what they think is the best way to move forward.


“Is this for everyone? Questions about Amazon HQ2”  Paper by Jason Beery of the Urban Kind Institute 

“Amazon can get the company to hire more women and more black/African Americans, Hispanic/Latinas, Asian/Asian Americans, Alaskan or Hawaii natives, American Indians, or Pacific Islanders to their leadership and other professional positions. No development deal can fix the city’s gender pay gap. No development deal can protect long-term and low-wealth residents of any race or ethnicity from displacement, worsening relative poverty, or homelessness. No development deal can fix the city’s existing affordable housing crisis. No development deal can improve transportation access for those families and individuals already displaced out of the city through recent rounds of displacement. No deal can guarantee positive outcomes for all, but this deal threatens to make all of these things worse. And so, we ask, is this really for us?”

Panel on Corporate Power and Democracy hosted by the Pitt Human Rights City Alliance, panelists: 


If we expect to have a livable future in Pittsburgh, we’ve got to believe that we deserve better. In this case, it means keeping Amazon out.

Our resources are our land, our taxes, our infrastructure and roads, our beautiful housing stock, our working-class mythology and culture. Not only are the corporations coming here to take that from us, our elected officials are giving it to them. And then we’ll not be able to live here anymore.

There is a silver bullet narrative that goes along with [autonomous vehicle (AV)] technologies. To hear the companies tell it, AVs will eliminate congestion and air pollutants, provide faster and better transit access for underserved communities, eliminate parking lots and provide more available housing space and generate higher tax revenue from land use, increase safety, reduce operational costs, and give us new leisure time as we transition into our LED lit AI future.

But I’m going to paint a more realistic scenario, absent some pretty serious regulatory sticks. In 5 years, rich people in Fox Chapel are going to buy their own autonomous vehicles, have their cars drive them downtown and drop them off at work, then have the cars go home to park in the garage and wait to pick them up, driverless, at the end of the day. That’s double the emissions, double the congestion, in gas-powered vehicles…. Where they don’t operate, on the other hand, are Penn Hills, Duquesne, North Versailles, East Pittsburgh, and Braddock, and if folks from these communities can’t now afford to do their daily commute by Uber, they sure as hell won’t be able to afford an autonomous ride in a more expensive car in 5 years.

Maybe most importantly, the leisure time that AVs will usher in is that special timelessness of unemployment, and the inability to do wage work to care for your family and your basic needs. 1 out of every 15 workers in the US works in the trucking industry. In 39 out of 50 states, truck driving employs more people than ANY OTHER JOB. And add to that all taxi and Uber and Lyft and Access, and bus driver and delivery and sanitation driver jobs, and you’ve got one hell of an unemployment problem. Which is also a tax problem. We’re been promised 400 jobs from an Argo plant producing AV vehicle parts here in Pittsburgh. 400! How many of those tens of thousands of 55 year old truck drivers with a high school degree are going to become machinists? It’s hard to understand why the City of Pittsburgh insists not only in running headlong over the same cliff that we fell over in the late 70s and early 80s, but insisting on being the first to do so as well.”

…The problem is not Uber or Amazon, per se. Capitalism will do capitalism, and it’s the nature of these companies to disguise their harms in order to maximize profits. I lay the blame squarely at the feet of our elected officials and our public agencies who that are doing this work for them. Our City in January hosted a “Mobility Showcase” that was basically a several hour-long advertisement for AVs and other tech. Can’t those companies rent the convention center themselves?”- Laura Wiens, Director of Pittsburgh for Public Transit

Check out also the work of the Community Power Movement, and sign on to their petition demanding transparency around the bid 

Amazon HQ2 Press Conference Co-Hosted by Pittsburghers for Public Transit and the Thomas Merton Center 


Amazon rally photo

Image: residents gathered by the river downtown, holding signs that say “Black Homes Matter,” “Don’t Drive Us Out,” and “Who can afford to live in Amazon’s Pittsburgh?”

Other readings and links

“Amazon Issues Threat over Seattle Head-Tax Plan, Halts Tower Construction Planning” by Matt Day and Daniel Beekman in The Seattle Times, May 2, 2018

“Amazon Fires Back at Seattle’s Proposed Head Tax, Pauses Construction Projects” in Komo, May 2, 2018

“The Sad Spectacle of Cities Groveling to Amazon” by Nathan J Robinson In  Current Affairs, October 16 2017

“From Seattle to Luxembourg, How Tax Schemes Shaped Amazon” by David Pegg in The Guardian, April 25, 2018

“Pennsylvania Files Suit to Block Release of Financial Perks Offered to Amazon” by Emily Opilo in The Morning Call, April 25, 2018

“It’s Back to The Drawing Board for Affordable Housing at the Lower Hill Site” by Margaret J Kraus in WESA, May 2, 2018

“We Can’t Afford to Live in the City We Build” by Logan Swan in The Stranger,  April 20, 2018

“5 Big Reasons Why People Are Protesting Amazon’s Second Headquarters” by Julia Glum in Time, April 23, 2018

“Amazon Warehouse Workers Skip Bathroom Breaks to Keep Their Jobs, Says Report” by Shannon Liao in The Verge, April 16, 2018