Amazon creates $2b housing fund for HQ regions including NOVA

Amazon yesterday announced the creation of its Amazon Housing Equity Fund, a more than $2 billion commitment to preserve and create more than 20,000 affordable housing units in its three headquarters areas: Northern Virginia, Washington State’s Puget Sound region and Nashville, Tenn.

For these three regions, in which the company has or expects to have at least 5,000 employees each in the coming years, the Housing Equity Fund will help preserve existing housing and help create inclusive housing developments through below-market loans and grants to housing partners, public agencies, and minority-led organizations.

The company said the fund underscores its commitment to affordable housing and will help ensure that moderate- to low-income families can afford housing in communities with easy access to neighborhood services, amenities and jobs.

“This commitment to affordable housing is unprecedented in Northern Virginia, and I want to thank and congratulate Amazon for leading by example to tackle one of the region’s most significant challenges,” said Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.

Amazon is now one of the 10 largest employers in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, according to the most recent comprehensive annual financial reports published by each county government.

“Like the commitment to creation of thousands of tech jobs, and its commitment to educational excellence, creating the Housing Equity Fund is another significant manifestation of the benefits of Amazon’s presence and growth in Northern Virginia,” Hoskins said.

Amazon announced in November 2018 that it would locate its “HQ2” in the Crystal City area of Arlington County. The company’s first investments in affordable housing in this region include $381.9 million in below-market loans and grants to the Washington Housing Conservancy to preserve and create up to 1,300 affordable homes on the Crystal House apartment complex close to HQ2.

Additional investments are anticipated in this region, the company said. The new fund will help local families “achieve long-term stability while building strong, inclusive communities,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO.

Since announcing its HQ2 location, Amazon also has donated more than $19 million to community organizations across the Washington, D.C., area. Most recently, Amazon gave $3 million across four legal service agencies to support families and individuals facing eviction issues due to challenges stemming from the ongoing pandemic: Legal Services of Northern Virginia, Virginia Poverty Law Center, Bread for the City’s Legal Clinic, and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.

$2 Billion in Below-Market Capital

For the Housing Equity Fund, Amazon is providing below-market capital — in the form of loans, lines of credit, and grants — to preserve and create 20,000 homes affordable for moderate- to low-income families in the three headquarters regions. Amazon is targeting households making between 30 percent to 80 percent of the area’s median income (AMI). In the Washington, D.C. metro area, this translates to a household of four earning less than $79,600 a year.

$125 Million in Grants to Minority-Led Organizations and Public Agencies   

The fund will provide an additional $125 million in cash grants to businesses, nonprofits, and minority-led organizations to help them build a more inclusive solution to the affordable housing crisis, which the company noted disproportionately affects communities of color. The fund will also give grants to government partners not traditionally involved in affordable housing issues, such as transit agencies and school districts, to provide them with resources to advance and create equitable and affordable housing initiatives.

“With Amazon’s support, we are advancing our vision for inclusive, mixed-income communities of racially diverse middle-income and low-income families and individuals, to live near their employment and access high-performing schools and community amenities,” said Kimberly Driggins, executive director of the Washington Housing Conservancy.

Visit amazon.com/housingequity to read more about Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund.

Smart City Challenge to kick-off month-long collaborative event on January 23

Kicking off on January 23 and running until February 18, the first Smart City Challenge, a collaborative innovation competition, will be presented by Smart City Works, Refraction, Fairfax County, Girls in Tech DC, The Universities at Shady Grove, and Virginia Tech.

Registration is open for the virtual competition, which will begin with remarks from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Dominion Energy CEO Bob Blue and Virginia president Ed Baine, Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus Executive Director Lance Collins, MITRE Labs General Manager and Chief Futurist Charles Clancy and Fairfax County Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn.

Click here to register for the Challenge.

The teams create high-impact solutions to address the toughest smart city challenges in sectors, including in housing, transportation, health, broadband, energy, education, water, infrastructure  and public safety. The goal of the Challenge is to advance equitable and inclusive opportunities for all people to thrive in the Washington, D.C. region. The Challenge also will host important discussions on smart-city issues with key business, government and nonprofit leaders throughout the month.

“The Smart City Challenge is the perfect opportunity to tap bright minds to improve the lives of all everyone in the Washington, D.C., area through technology, innovation and problem-solving,” added Refraction CEO Esther Lee. “We are excited to bring together forward-thinking businesses, entrepreneurs, universities, government, and nonprofits to showcase collaboration and thought leadership.”

Collaborators will have one month to build their teams and draw on Challenge resources, including expert mentors. Winning teams will be selected based on innovation, regional impact, practicality of application, and equity and inclusivity by a judging panel of smart city experts. More than $350,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to the winning teams. Winners will also have the valuable opportunity to conduct pilot projects with Fairfax County, City of Fairfax, or other Challenge partners.

The Challenge is open to all participants who are passionate about improving our region, from college students to entrepreneurs, technologists, and startups, with a special focus on including women and people of color.

“We and our partners are excited to continue to build on the Northern Virginia and D.C. region’s extraordinary innovation ecosystem with the Smart City Challenge, which will uncover impactful solutions to key challenges for our region and help us identify and develop local talent,” said Robert Mazer, co-founder of Smart City Works.

The Challenge will be supported by the generosity and partnership of ABS Capital, Amazon Web Services, Arlington County, Cox Business, Dominion Energy, City of Fairfax, Fairfax County, George Mason University, MITRE, Refraction, Smart City Works Venture Labs, TalaTek, The Universities at Shady Grove and Virginia Tech.

January 7, 2021