In old mythology, during the reign of Zeus and Hera, there lived a large tribe of tiny people called the Pygmies. Only two and a half feet tall, they were industrious craftspeople, creating the finest silver, cotton and silk wares in the ancient world.
But every winter, flocks of cranes would darken the sky. The comparatively colossal birds would pillage the crops of the tiny people, crumble the walls of their houses and bring devastation and death.
Throughout the ancient world, cranes were symbols of knowledge and wealth; Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder of Rome even said that cranes would swallow stones and turn them into jewels. But when they migrated north, they were harbingers of winter, bad weather and hard times.
Over the past decade, the cranes have nested in Seattle, their steel hulks preening on our skyline. And though they bring jewels and riches, they have been injurious to some members of our community, and have fractured our city’s unique and vibrant culture.
Fewer than half of Seattle’s long-term residents believe the city is headed in the right direction, even though a slight majority believe that growth is good. Unaffordable homes, rising rents, the homeless crisis, and a slew of other newfound ills have caused Seattle to realize that growth cannot be the only goal – there’s more to life than the size of a city’s economy.
The goal of city policy should be improving the well-being of its residents in a broad range of categories, a challenge requiring policies that do more than just spur GDP growth.
The H.O.M.E.S. — Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter — program would allow the city to provide for the people who are not profiting from the tech boom in Seattle without halting prosperity. It would mean Seattle watches out for its heart, not just its pocketbook.
Funding for the program would come from a tax of 4.8 cents per hour, per employee on the top 10 percent of the highest-grossing Seattle businesses. If we’re being honest, it’s these huge corporations that are bringing high-paying jobs and the workers to fill them into Seattle, and driving the poor and middle-class out. And when many of those jobs are paying upwards of $50 an hour, 4.8 cents is a raindrop in the ocean.
Opponents have said that it’s unfair to hold companies like Amazon responsible for what happens to non-employees. But what’s unfair is the direct correlation between Amazon’s employment trends and rising housing costs – to pass that off as a mere coincidence is willfully ignorant.
Opponents have also said that companies like Amazon will just go somewhere else. From the early days when Jeff Bezos tried to found the company on an Indian Reservation to avoid paying taxes, Amazon has single-mindedly pursued profits at the expense of community responsibility. No matter what Seattle offers, Amazon will boil and bluster about how it needs a better deal.
We can continue to sacrifice our dignity and pocketbooks to keep companies like Amazon here and the jobs that they bring (even though they’re not jobs for the people who already live here). Or, we can decide that our principles and our people are more valuable, and we want our companies to be good corporate citizens.
But Amazon would be foolish to leave, and it knows it. Even with funding programs like H.O.M.E.S., Seattle still offers a better deal than anywhere else in the country. We have world-class universities, majestic mountains, and almost no snow. People want to live here – more than they want to live in most of our competitors.
Big business wants to use fear of an economic winter to keep us docile. But the cranes are already here, and our crops are already being eaten.