Critical Housing Partners – EMPLOYERS: Bay Area Tech Companies and Microsoft to Invest in Housing

Very shortly after our new Governor called on the private tech sector to do more to address the housing shortage, Facebook announced the $500 million Partnership for the Bay’s Future which includes an investment fund and a policy fund.  The goal for the investment fund would be to bring 8,000 affordable homes to San Francisco within 10 years.  The Policy Fund will be administered through the San Francisco Foundation.  Challenge Grants will be offered for protection of tenants and preservation of existing affordable housing, and Breakthrough Grants will focus on production.  Other major corporations including Morgan Stanley, Kaiser Permanente, and Genentech are involved as are philanthropic organizations such as Ford Foundation and family foundations for the two founders of Hewlett-Packard.  

Facebook’s notice came right after Microsoft announced that it will also invest $500 million in affordable housing in Seattle.  Microsoft stated that they have an interest and will take responsibility to help people left behind in the communities that were transformed by the housing boom caused by their industry.   

The Microsoft plan is to provide some of the funds for construction costs for non-tech workers which includes teachers, firefighters and other middle- and low-income residents. The balance will subsidize the preservation and construction of middle-income residences and philanthropic grants to fight homeless. Although Microsoft isn’t building housing for its employees, the fact that they are taking responsibility for what their success has done to existing communities is inspiring.  

Might this groundbreaking news be an emerging employer trend?  Maybe, but there are critics. 

Some argue these tech giants should be taxed to solve the housing problem they created rather than take a philanthropic approach.  Speaking on a Time Magazine panel at the Davos Economic Summit this week, Rutger Bregman, historian and author of Utopia for Realists, Bregman stated “I hear people talking the language of participation, justice, equality and transparency but almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share.”  

Adhi Nagraj, director of SPUR, a San Francisco Urban Planning organization, was interviewed by CNN and said that Facebook efforts are laudable but “shouldn’t take the place of money from local, state and federal governments.”Philanthropy and high wealth donors can be a part of the equation by providing funding for housing, but government shouldn’t look to them as the silver bullet.   

 

Employers have been late to the table as partners in solving the housing crisis; but they have much to lose if we can’t retain our workforce.  We hope to see more employers not only contributing funding but really stepping up to advocate for housing at the community, local, regional and state levels.  This important voice has been missing likely because understanding the housing crisis is complicated, therefore making it challenging on where in the discourse to weigh in.  If you are an employer seeking to understand your workforce’s housing needs and challenges and how to advocate for solutions, please contact our CEO Jennifer LeSar at jennifer@lesardevelopment.com.