Google announced Tuesday that it’s investing $1 billion in developing more housing across the San Francisco Bay Area, where the rise of wealthy tech companies has helped fuel one of the country’s biggest affordability crises.
The tech giant, one of the main companies targeted by Bay Area housing activists, plans to put $750 million toward repurposing Google-owned land into 15,000 residential units over the next 10 years.
“We hope this plays a role in addressing the chronic shortage of affordable housing options for long-time middle and low income residents,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in his announcement.
The rest of the money will “establish a $250 million investment fund so that we can provide incentives to enable developers to build at least 5,000 affordable housing units across the market,” Pichai said.
That would cover about 68% of the housing the region needs to build to keep up with housing demands, The Guardian calculated. There’s a lot of lost time to make up for: Despite the Bay Area adding 373,000 new jobs from 2012 to 2016, only 58,000 new housing units were permitted during that period.
Silicon Valley Rising, an organization raising awareness about how the housing crisis has devastated the region’s low-wage workers, applauded Google’s announcement.
“[B]ig tech corporations must take responsibility for their impacts so working families have the freedom to stay and thrive in our community,” the group said in a series of tweets.
Google, a massive company with 45,000 employees in the Bay Area, has long been the face of tech companies driving up prices across the whole Bay Area, but especially in San Francisco proper, which now has the highest rents of any city in the world.
Protests blocking Google buses shuttling employees between their Silicon Valley offices and their homes in San Francisco were a regular occurrence a few years ago, though such demonstrations have petered out.
Critics of the unresolved housing crisis also point to policies that leave the region ill-equipped to manage its explosive growth. Laws in San Francisco, for one, have long prevented many high-volume housing developments from going forward and made it easy for neighbors to successfully oppose construction near them.
News of Google’s investment comes as some other big tech players in the region are either going public or are rumored to be doing so, which would create a whole new class of billionaires essentially overnight.