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Amazon HQ2: Why a Long Island City headquarters could be a nightmare



long island city 7 train mta queens boulevard sunset 2009 dave mosher
Long Island City and the
Manhattan skyline in 2009.

Dave Mosher

  • Amazon is reportedly splitting its second headquarters,
    known as HQ2, in two locations. Each
    would have about 25,000 new workers.
  • The company reportedly wants to put half of HQ2 in
    Long Island City, or LIC —
    the western-most neighborhood in
    Queens, New York
  • Developers have rapidly built up LIC in recent years,
    and local leaders are promising big subsidies in hopes of
    attracting Amazon.
  • But nearby housing prices continue to

    Many immigrant and working families
    in Queens are also moving deeper into the borough and commuting
    farther to work to afford housing in area.
  • Public transportation is
    also overcrowded.
  • In the coming decades, climate change and rising
    seas will chronically flood parts of LIC and possibly bury it

When I heard that Amazon may split its second
headquarters, known as HQ2, between Crystal City, Virginia, and
Long Island City, Queens, my heart sank.

I’ve called Queens my home for most of my adult life. It’s one of
the most ethnically diverse urban areas on Earth, and is also
where I’ve built a career in journalism, stumbled out of and into
love, discovered Kuala Lumpur-style fish-head curry, walked whole
neighborhoods without hearing any English, and am now raising my

first child

My family lives in a one-bedroom apartment near Long Island City
(or LIC, as locals abbreviate it). Frequent dog walks and a
westward view from our kitchen window have given us a front-row
seat to the area’s radical transformation. When I moved to the
area in 2007, LIC was a tangle of giant warehouses, crumbling
parking structures, seedy night clubs, and mind-blowing graffiti.

Today it’s almost unrecognizable. An impeccable public park now
lines the East River waterfront, and views of Manhattan’s skyline
— once easy to see from my street — have been walled off by
gleaming, glass-covered condo towers.

Read more:
New York City owns a creepy island that almost no one is allowed
to visit — here’s what it’s like

I can see why Amazon would fix its gaze upon LIC and estimate a
multi-billion-dollar boost to
the local economy. The neighborhood is a stone’s throw from
Manhattan, sits fairly close to the city’s three major
international airports, touches several major subway lines, and
has room to build and grow. Also, New York City is an incredible
place to live — and thus a great way to attract talented

But I’m worried.

My “not in my backyard” angst doesn’t come from a fear of change.
An influx of skilled workers, a forward-thinking company, and
increased tax revenue could fund a fantastic experiment in urban

While densifying LIC, Amazon, developers, and city officials
could create climate-change-resilient infrastructure, designate
car-free zones, expand affordable housing, boost public schools,
provide easier access to food and other critical amenities,
generate a raft of high-paying jobs around Amazon, and give some
of the hardest-working (yet hardest-struggling) families in the
city a chance to build intergenerational wealth.

What I’ve seen, heard, and
suggests this is a dream. Instead, I expect to see
deepening struggles for the working-class people who keep New
York humming and arguably make it the greatest city in the world.

My fears are not just about vacating tax revenues, unreliable
public transit, and unaffordable housing. It’s about the future
of the city itself.

New York officials want to give tax breaks to a $1 trillion
company owned by the world’s richest person

jeff bezos
Jeff Bezos.

Andrew Cuomo, the recently re-elected governor of New York, is
fighting hard to bring Amazon to New York City.

“I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” he
told reporters on Monday.

Read more: Amazon gained a huge perk from its
HQ2 contest that’s worth far more than any tax break

Jokes aside, Cuomo and other government officials are reportedly
pitching big tax breaks and subsidies to the
$1-trillion company
founded by Jeff Bezos (the world’s
richest person
). One of those officials is NYC mayor Bill de
Blasio, who said Amazon “is
very destructive to communities
” within hours of submitting
the city’s HQ2 proposal.

The details of these tax breaks are not yet public. However,
based on other pitches made to Amazon by HQ2-hopeful cities, New
York’s offer is likely to include a multi-billion-dollar gift.

Public transit is already bursting at the seams, and traffic is a

over crowded 7 train mta public transit long island city queens new york dave mosher
During rush hour in
Queens, several overcrowded trains on the 7 line often pass
before any passengers can get on.


As towers have sprung up in LIC and the cost of living has soared, many of my neighbors
and working families are retreating deeper into Queens, where
they stand a better chance at scraping by. This gradual exodus is
paired with what city demographers consider “remarkable” population growth
for the borough.

These factors have brought ever-increasing demand for public
transit, yet the city has not made adequate improvements quickly
enough to meet it.

Overcrowded trains and buses in LIC and areas to its east

are the norm
. More often than not, three fully crowded subway
trains pass me by on their way to LIC and Manhattan before I can
squeeze onto one.

Read more:
New Yorkers are freaking out that Amazon’s HQ2 could cripple the
subway system, but the reality is more complicated

Soul-crushing traffic is also typical for LIC, as the Queensboro
Bridge (which has no toll, unlike a tunnel to the south) is
constantly clogged with vehicles entering or leaving Manhattan.
This contributes to NYC being the third most traffic-congested and
second most traffic-jammed city on Earth

It’s hard for me to imagine how 20,000-25,000 new Amazon
over the next decade would efficiently get to and
from work during rush hour, especially if many of them move here
from outside the city and add to the area’s already surging
population. The same goes for existing residents.

Though growing jobs can boost income and sales tax revenues,
those monies take a while to build up. The city needs cash now to
keep its subways and workforce moving, let alone to further
overhaul and rethink the system. The Metropolitan Transit
Authority is looking at
$37 billion
in upkeep and overhaul work while staring down
$42 billion in debt by 2022, according to a recent city report.

Amazon is reportedly ready to
invest $5 billion
in HQ2’s construction. But even if they
poured that entire sum into public transit, it’s hard to say
whether it would make a big difference. (One new subway station
in Manhattan, for example, cost about $4 billion.)

Years of decisions by the city have led to this transit crisis,
and it’s primarily up to our officials to fix it — especially if
they are trying to lure Amazon.

Queens housing costs are high — and they’re only getting worse

something is wrong queens housing dave mosher
Queens communities are
struggling to deal with development and rising costs of

Dave Mosher

If Amazon lands in Queens, its workers will quickly sense how
small even $100,000 a year (the average salary the company
expects to pay) will feel in this borough, let alone in Manhattan
or nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods, where prices are higher.

When I moved to western Queens more than a decade ago, amid the
Great Recession, one-bedroom apartments were listing for sale at
about $200,000. Some of these apartments today — generally
600-700 square feet of space — now sell for more than $500,000,
plus maintenance fees.

Homes with two or three bedrooms, and perhaps a driveway or tiny
patch of backyard, have grown even more out-of-reach for the
majority of families. Half-century-old properties (many of which
require extensive renovations) used to sell for about $500,000.
They’re now listing for more than $1 million — sometimes $1.5

Read more:
Renters in New York and Washington could pay upward of $200 more
annually if Amazon splits its new headquarters between the 2

The rental scene is just as tough, even though there an
increasing number of units are available. The median rent in
Queens was about $1,400 a month in 2016.
Today, studios or one-bedroom units in older buildings in or
around LIC rent for more than $2,000 a month. Studios and
one-bedroom units in LIC’s shiny new towers are north of $3,000 a month, and
two-bedroom units can run $4,000-$5,000 per month.

While many of the new buildings in LIC have a limited number of
subsidized units, you must apply through lotteries to
rent them. The process comes with significant income restrictions
and it can take years before applicants get selected. Even if
you’re picked, the “affordable” unit price breaks can be

Amazon is almost certain to make this situation
more difficult
for lower-income households. I suspect that
most of the roughly 25,000 people expected to work at Amazon’s
LIC headquarters would not settle there. More likely, they’d

look at other nearby neighborhoods
, causing housing prices to
spike further and fueling the city’s ongoing hyper-gentrification.

This is not a tenable situation for a typical Queens resident,
about half of whom are immigrants. Many also
live in poverty; the median
income here for a household — as in an entire family — was
roughly $60,000 a year in 2016. Rent can gobble up a majority of
these families’ take-home salaries.

These are comparatively short-term concerns, though. Future
generation will have a lot more to worry about.

How will Amazon deal with climate change?

Long Island City flooded
Projected sea levels in
2100 show will be mostly underwater.

Google Earth/Climate Central

Over the long-term, many working families in western Queens might
secure a better future by
packing up and leaving
(if they can afford it). This is a
conversation that my wife and I have with increasing frequency as
we plan for the future of our family.

Climate change is here to stay, and its effects will
get much worse
and more disruptive in the coming decades.

Among other problems,
are getting
, slower-moving, and
more devastating
; areas of intense drought are expanding;
are intensifying; and
coral reefs
that protect coasts from storms are dying.

But most relevant to Amazon HQ2’s long-term existence is the
rise of sea levels

2017 report
from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration suggested that, under
the worst climate conditions
, parts of New York — including
parts of Long Island City — could be underwater by 2100,” my
colleague Aria Bendix
wrote earlier this week

Even if this gloomy scenario does not come to pass, LIC’s current
and future inhabitants must anticipate increasingly powerful
storm surges and chronic flooding. It’s not yet clear whether
Amazon’s leaders are taking these climate-related risks into
account, or whether they intend to work with local officials in
New York to plan for and combat those problems on a decades-long

Read more:
Here’s what Earth might look like in 100 years — if we’re

But overall, barring an all-out effort by the city, state,
and federal government to control or at least mitigate these
looming problems, building in LIC seems like a questionable
long-term investment for Amazon.

It’s unfair to single out Amazon alone, of course, when talking
about this long-term threat. As individuals and a society, we all
need to stop pretending climate change won’t affect the homes,
cities, and infrastructure we are building for future
generations. It
, and it is, and our collective
short-sightedness is what worries me most of all.

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