Tech Giants Want to Solve the Housing Nightmare They Created

By: Ankita RaolJan
On: Vice

“These companies are so dominant,” argued Joel Kotkin, a fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in California, and author of The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. “There’s only a few people who have money, and even in doing things that are necessary, it’s going to be the affordable housing they want.”

Last November, San Francisco voted to impose a new tax on companies raking in more than $50 million in gross annual receipts to help the city’s growing homeless population. But some of the loudest people to speak up against the ballot initiative, dubbed Proposition C, were a few (albeit not all) of the Bay Area’s tech moguls: Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, joined by businesses like Stripe and Lyft, donated serious cash in a vain attempt to kill the plan.

Which is not to say Big Tech has shown no interest in housing policy in America. On the contrary, the industry has slowly been making its own inroads into the strained West Coast market in particular: In the past few years, several of the biggest tech companies have announced major projects—sometimes new development, like Google’s planned 6,600 housing units in Mountain View, and in other cases philanthropic investment in affordable housing, as Microsoft did to the tune of $500 million (and great fanfare) in the Seattle area last week. On Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic initiative made its own move, announcing a public-private $500 million housing fund—developed in collaboration with local nonprofits and real estate developers—to build 8,000 new homes across five Bay Area counties in the next decade.

The dichotomy at play here is no accident. One the one hand, tech companies have helped fuel the housing crisis—sprawling across cities that are bursting at the seams with little investment in public infrastructure, and avoiding taxes that might help the poor and homeless at virtually every turn. On the other, they’re positioning themselves as postmodern Robin Hoods, announcing plans to build apartments for rent and subsidize others in a fashion that harkens back to the days of 19th century “company towns,” threatening to even more dramatically shape communities in the shadows of their own corporate megaliths.

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