A recent Elon University poll of residents in the finalist cities found that while relatively few residents outright oppose Amazon moving to their city, only 43 percent strongly supported such a move. Residents in many cities said they were concerned that Amazon’s arrival would increase the cost of living and opposed offering special incentives to attract the company.
In Nashville, the debate over HQ2 has gotten caught up in a broader discussion of gentrification, race and the consequences of growth. Residents long described Nashville as a small town disguised as a big city. But over the last decade, the city’s tourism industry has taken off, and some of those tourists liked Nashville enough to stay. For years, the Nashville metropolitan area grew by more than 100 residents per day, with many of them moving into newly built downtown apartment complexes.
As in other cities that have experienced such booms, the growth has led to tensions. Longtime residents, many of them African-American, have been displaced, and the city’s homeless population has grown. A recent study commissioned by the mayor’s office found that the city had lost 18,000 affordable housing units since 2000. That gap could grow to 31,000 units by 2025 if current trends continue — without taking Amazon into account.
“There are many neighborhoods in Nashville where the fight is lost,” said James Fraser, a Vanderbilt University professor who has been active in the city’s affordable-housing movement.
Adriane Harris, who leads housing policy for the Nashville mayor’s office, said concerns about gentrification were legitimate. But she said there were two sides to the affordability equation: housing costs and income. Nashville’s tourism economy depends heavily on low-wage service workers. The promise of HQ2 is that it could be the foundation of a new, more lucrative industry.
“If we’re only addressing housing, then I don’t think we’re getting to the root of the issue,” Ms. Harris said. “Wage growth is critical in this conversation.”
Affordable-housing groups, however, worry that current Nashville residents won’t be, for the most part, the beneficiaries of the high-paying jobs that Amazon promises. Fabian Bedne, a Nashville city council member, said the city should ask the company to help mitigate its impact, perhaps by financing affordable-housing programs.