Facebook Will Give $20 Million To Tackle Affordable Housing Crisis In Silicon Valley
Tech giant aims to donate and join with community groups to ease the exorbitant cost of living in their neighborhood.
The words “affordable housing” in the same sentence as “Silicon Valley” are an oxymoron. Facebook are trying to bridge the gap. They plan to offer $20 million for housing for those who aren’t tech billionaires—but work regular middle and low paid jobs that keep the Valley functioning. Don’t hold your breath on the speech though.
It’s not entirely altruistic on Mark Zuckerberg’s part. Facebook in Silicon Valley are growing faster than an unattended campfire in arid brush, pushing forward a massive campus expansion in the area. They received intense criticism for offering generous bonuses for employees who moved near to their HQ, heightening gentrification. The corporation, which is valued at $350 billion, is legally required to fund certain community initiatives as part of its growth, a point activists have been trying to hammer home. Facebook plans to add 126,000 square feet to its campus and bring 6,500 new employees to the area, increasing the Menlo Park workforce by 20 percent. Development laws mandate that the corporation contribute $6.3 million to below-market-rate housing.
The internet giant isn’t new to the giving game. They famously donated $100 million to Newark schools in 2010. But closer to home, the lack of affordable housing has reached critical proportions in Silicon Valley which is also home to Google, Apple, Yahoo! and many other massive tech companies. Things are now so bad that some Silicon Valley workers have taken to sleeping in their cars or RV’s.
Facebook is partnering with Envision Transform Build-East Palo Alto (ETB), a coalition of Silicon Valley community groups, and the neighboring cities of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park to create affordable housing and provide economic opportunities in the form of job training and legal relief expansion to tenants who have been displaced. Facebook hopes to add private and public sector organizations to the partnership.
“There is a housing crisis in Silicon Valley. There is a traffic crisis in Silicon Valley,” says Elliot Schrage, vice president of global communications, marketing and public policy at Facebook. “We want to keep tech jobs in Silicon Valley.”
The area faces particular challenges due to zoning restrictions which make new building prohibitive. Existing tenants and residents have been forced to leave as rents and house prices have escalated, and highly paid employees who can afford the increase have moved in. Google has already donated to homeless causes in the area. While about 500,000 new jobs have been created since 2010, Silicon Valley built 26 percent of the new homes it needed for lower-income households between 2007 and 2014, a shortfall of nearly 22,000 homes, according to local government statistics.
There may be an ulterior motive for Facebook’s housing move. The cost of living in the valley has started to deter some employees from moving there. Other U. S. cities such as Seattle (Washington), Austin (Texas) and Salt Lake City (Utah) are developing a strong tech footprint with an considerable lower cost of living than Silicon Valley. Although there are no specific details on the type and price of affordable housing Facebook plans to build, the company has said it was planning to design 1,500 housing units as part of an upcoming 1.1 million square foot expansion to its current facility.
“I don’t feel like we have a choice,” Elliot Schrage told the Wall Street Journal. “All of these companies love being in Silicon Valley. All of them have experienced extraordinary growth in Silicon Valley. All recognize that it is becoming increasingly difficult to persuade talented people to move to the region.”
Let’s hope Silicon Valley’s affordable housing is as innovative as many of the companies based there.
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