Affordable housing has been a growing concern across the Bay Area for the past several years. Almost no progress has been made in most Bay Area communities on this difficult issue. Now, leading technology companies Google and Facebook are trying to tackle the problem themselves. Both companies have recently announced plans to build housing near their campuses.
Google’s parent company Alphabet employs 20,000 people in the city of Mountain View, home to 80,000 people. Traffic and rents in the area both have steadily gotten worse over the past 18 years, when Google was brought to life in a local Mountain View garage.
Google filed paperwork with the city to build 330 housing units near its headquarters. The mayor and city council are supportive of the plan, although there are some concerns. The housing will be built on land once used in the semiconductor industry and there may be some environmental issues on the land.
The units would not be limited to Google employees, but would prioritize people who work in Mountain View.
In Menlo Park Facebook has announced plans for a 1,500-unit housing project. Approximately 15% of the units in Facebook’s project would be designated as subsidized housing. Additionally, Facebook is donating $20 million to developing a community partnership whose goal is to create affordable housing.
Facebook’s housing plans also appear to be supported by the local government. Recently, Menlo Park changed its zoning rules that had previously limited dense housing developments inside of the city.
Causes of Low Inventory
Throughout the Bay Area rents and property values are skyrocketing, as the supply of houses remains historically low. Tech companies are creating jobs faster than communities are able or willing to create new housing.
Many experts feel that local governments deserve a large share of the blame for the housing crisis because of a combination of laws and regulations that have made it difficult for developers to build in areas of high demand.
The Google and Facebook projects are too small to make an impact on the larger Bay Area housing crisis. These projects are a sign that tech companies feel that unless they take action on the housing issue, their rate of growth could be threatened.
Renewed Focus on Housing Shortage
The renewed focus on affordable housing by companies and local governments comes in the wake of the horrible tragedy at The Ghost Ship Warehouse that burned down in Oakland, killing at least 36 people.
In the aftermath of the fire, many people are blaming the high rents and difficulty of finding suitable housing as the reason some people were willing to live in the warehouse. According to reports some were able to live in the Ghost Ship for a much lower rent in a city where rents average $2700 month.
Google and Facebook have made billions of dollars by solving difficult, technical problems in surprising ways. Perhaps, their newest projects are a sign that they plan on disrupting the housing crisis with the same spirit they bring to their web based businesses.
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