Expert Analysis: Amazon Keeps Rentals Affordable in 3 Cities

By almost any measure, housing costs are extremely high in Arlington and in many other parts of Northern Virginia. The region attracts workers and families, in large part because of the strong economy. The influx of technology companies to Northern Virginia, including the decision by Amazon to locate its second headquarters in Arlington, makes the region even more of a magnet for workers. But the demand for housing has far outpaced the available supply, and rents and prices are rising so fast that many lower- and middle-income workers are being pushed out of the area.

Amazon recently made public that it will play an active role in helping to expand housing options for working individuals and families that earn moderate incomes. This month, the company announced its $2 billion Housing Equity Fund, designed to support the development and preservation of affordable housing in three communities in which Amazon has a major presence—Washington State’s Puget Sound region; Arlington, Virginia; and Nashville, Tennessee.

In Arlington, Amazon announced that it has provided more than $380 million in below-market-rate loans and grants for the purchase of Crystal House, an 825-unit apartment complex located near the new HQ2 development. The funding will also support the development of new affordable rental housing on adjacent land. The building and land were purchased by the Washington Housing Conservancy, which is a regional nonprofit that acquires and develops affordable workforce housing in the Washington region.

Rents for 755 of the existing units in Crystal House will be set at levels affordable to households earning 80% of the area median income, or those earning below about $100,000. (The income limits vary by household size.) Rents will remain affordable at these incomes for at least 99 years.

Given the desirable location of this property, without this investment by Amazon, it is very likely that these rental units in Crystal City would have either been converted to high-end condominiums or rents would have increased so much that existing residents would have been pushed out.

What REALTORS® Need to Know

  • This investment by Amazon is the first of its kind in Virginia, where a large corporation has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars specifically for housing in the community. It could also be an indication of how future public-private-nonprofit partnerships could work to expand housing opportunities in high-cost markets.
  • REALTORS® can be an important voice for encouraging future investments in housing. Because REALTORS® know their communities so well, they can help be a conduit between businesses and local government to help ensure there is sufficient housing for all residents.
  • In high-cost markets like Arlington, not all affordable rental housing is “low-income” housing or “government-subsidized” housing. The project Amazon is helping to fund serves individuals and families with incomes up to $100,000, which includes many key workers in the community, such as retail workers, administrative professionals, teachers, and public service employees.
  • The strong housing market in Northern Virginia has driven up rents, forcing some individuals and families to leave the region. Communities thrive when people working in all jobs that serve the community can live in the community.

For more information about the Amazon housing investment, or for information about affordable rental housing programs in Virginia, please do not hesitate to contact me.