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Amazon Commits $125M To Fund Affordable Housing Near Metro Stations

A rendering of the Northern Virginia skyline with the planned Amazon HQ2 buildings.

Amazon has reached a deal to help spur the development of new transit-oriented affordable housing in the region where it is building its second headquarters. 

The tech giant announced Wednesday it is committing $125M through a new partnership with WMATA, which runs the Washington, D.C., region's Metrorail and Metrobus system, that aims to create 1,000 units of affordable housing at Metro-adjacent developments over the next five years. 

The $125M would come in the form of below-market loans, Amazon said in a blog post. It also announced Tuesday it would provide $100M in below-market loans to create affordable housing in the Puget Sound region, and another $75M to create affordable housing in Nashville. The commitments are part of the $2B Housing Equity Fund that Amazon announced in January. 

“Housing and transit are the first- and second-largest expenses for most households in America, and Amazon’s funding will expedite affordable housing near transit reducing costs for both, while supporting families with long-term financial stability," Amazon Head of Community Development Catherine Buell said in a release.

The D.C.-area loans would be made to developers that have joint development agreements with WMATA to build projects on surplus land the agency owns around Metro stations. It said $25M would be set aside specifically for minority-led development firms. 

Amazon and Metro didn't specify which stations the partnership plans to target for affordable housing development. 

Metro has several existing joint development agreements that could be candidates for Amazon's funding, including projects at the New Carrollton and Grosvenor-Strathmore stations in Maryland and the West Falls Church Metro station in Virginia. The agency also has agreements with developers at the Takoma, College Park, White Flint, West Hyattsville and Bethesda stations. 

Fivesquares Development principal Andy Altman, whose firm is planning a 2,000-unit project at the Grosvenor-Strathmore station through an agreement with WMATA, told Bisnow it is pursuing the funds from Amazon. He said it has identified a 400-unit building that could break ground within three years, and he said the Amazon funding could help make 100 of those units affordable. 

"This would allow us to move forward with that building and increase the amount of affordable units," Altman said. "With this kind of financing available, it would really accelerate that building, which would be great. It’s a big commitment. We have to see the details, obviously, but it could be very significant in increasing the amount of affordable housing at transit, which is exactly what you want to do." 

The development partners must apply to receive the funds from Amazon, according to the release, and developers that finalize new agreements with Metro in the coming years would also be eligible. The transit agency aims to achieve 20 joint development agreements over the next decade, Metro Vice President of Real Estate and Parking Nina Albert said at an April Bisnow event.

Albert shared a map that showed the stations where it has existing joint development agreements and where it aims to reach new development agreements. Given the time it takes to reach and finalize new development agreements, and given Amazon's goal to deliver the new housing within five years, the existing agreements may be more likely to benefit from its funding. 

A map of Metro's long-term vision for the stations where it aims to pursue partnerships for the development of transit-adjacent land.

The transit agency said the partnership could help increase Metro ridership by creating more housing near stations, and it would help address the region's affordability crisis.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in 2019 set a target to create 320,000 housing units by 2030, and it said that 75% of new housing should be built near mass transit or activity centers. 

“Transit-oriented development has a proud legacy at Metro, and with this investment from Amazon we can continue to help the region tackle the challenges of housing affordability, congestion, and sustainability,” Metro General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a release. 

Amazon broke ground in January 2020 on the first two new buildings of its HQ2 campus in Arlington, and it has already moved over 1,600 employees into leased space in the neighborhood. The campus sits near the Crystal City and Pentagon City Metro stations on the Blue and Yellow lines in the newly named National Landing neighborhood.

A new Metro station is expected to open next year about a mile south at Potomac Yard, where the new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus was announced as part of the HQ2 selection.