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Head Of Amazon's $2B Housing Equity Fund Resigns

Catherine Buell, director of Amazon's Housing Equity Fund, speaks during an event at the Congress Heights Metro station in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 14, 2022.

A leader of Amazon’s community development arm is calling it quits after close to three years spearheading the company’s housing initiatives, the Washington Business Journal reported Monday

Catherine Buell, director of the firm’s $2B Housing Equity Fund, was brought on in June 2020 as head of community development for Amazon in the Community.

Since launching the fund in 2021, Buell has garnered commitments totaling $1.6B for more than 12,000 affordable homes across three areas: the Washington, D.C., area, Puget Sound in Washington, and Nashville, Tennessee.

“For me, it’s time. It’s time to take the leap of faith,” Buell told WBJ. “This feels like a really good time to leave Amazon and to leave the fund in a good place.”

The goal of the program is to boost the supply of low-to-moderate-income housing by providing below-market loans and grants for the development of 20,000 new or preserved affordable units. In September, the fund awarded $147M worth of grants and loans to projects across the D.C. metro.

One of Amazon's largest affordable housing deals sits in the shadow of its second headquarters project in Arlington, Virginia. The firm announced in 2021 it would provide a $339M below-market loan and $42M in grants for a nonprofit to acquire and preserve the affordability of the 828-unit Crystal House property in the newly named National Landing area. 

Buell said during a 2021 Bisnow event that before this deal, the property had been marketed as an opportunity for a luxury redevelopment.

"Crystal House is relatively affordable in the D.C. area, and we were mortified," Buell said on the 2021 event. "We didn't want that property to flip over and for everybody to raise rents and for National Landing to become an exclusive neighborhood. We wanted it to be an inclusive neighborhood."  

Buell told WBJ this week she is proud of the progress the fund made under her tutelage. 

“There were so many times in my career I would look at an issue and say, 'I wish somebody would do this' or 'I wish somebody would take care of this.' I feel like we got the big wishes,'" Buell said. “I had the wonderful opportunity to do so many things in community development, in affordable housing, that I knew to be impactful, but also that were really supported by regional leaders.”

Fund principal Senthil Sankaran will serve as interim head of the program, a company spokesperson told WBJ. He signed on with the company in February 2022 after serving in a series of D.C. government roles.

With only $400M remaining for future projects, it is unclear whether Amazon plans to replenish the fund. Buell stopped short of divulging plans for the next phase of her career.