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Behind Seattle’s Amazon Tax: Seething Tensions, Livid Neighbors, and Rising Rents

As a tech boom drives up home prices, lawmakers ask: “Can cities grow too fast?”
The Space Needle can be seen from the site of the Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle on Tuesday, January 23, 2018.
The Space Needle can be seen from the site of the Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle on Tuesday, January 23, 2018.Photographer: Mike Kane/Bloomberg
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It was, as the local public radio station said, the day “Seattle Nice” died. On May 2, the residents of Seattle were hit with a one-two punch. For months, the city council had been debating a new tax on large employers to raise $75 million for new affordable housing and services for the homeless, whose growing population had burst out of shelters and into tents around the city.

In the late morning, just before a council hearing, a columnist for the Seattle Times broke the news that Amazon.com Inc., the city’s largest employer, was playing hardball. The typically hermetic company said it paused expansion plans for buildings that would house about 7,000 employees pending the outcome of the upcoming tax vote.