Google makes its first concessions to angry residents in the Bay Area; will the company's new housing policy be enough to resolve the housing crisis it started in the first place?
On June 18th, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai released a press statement announcing Google's new housing and development plan for the Bay Area – a region many believe the company has negatively affected with soaring living costs, deriving primarily from a sharp jump in housing costs.
Pichai's concession to angry residents is through housing – the company promises to invest one billion for the building of 20,000 homes as well as increasing its support for community aid services such as homeless shelters.
Google imagines this development strategy as a two-step approach:
"First, over the next 10 years, we’ll repurpose at least $750 million of Google’s land, most of which is currently zoned for office or commercial space, as residential housing. This will enable us to support the development of at least 15,000 new homes at all income levels in the Bay Area, including housing options for middle and low-income families."
Next, Google intends to support the development of affordable housing to maintain accessibility to lower-income residents:
"Second, we’ll 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."
How Bad is the Housing Crisis?
In an article recently published in Bloomberg, the housing crisis is vividly depicted from the standpoint of the 'van communities' in Google's home city of Mount View.
Here, hundreds of Google staff and broader city labor force have been forced to rent RV’s to avoid the rental market draining them of every cent.
As Jennifer Loving, a housing activist and head of Destination: Home, stated for Bloomberg: “We have rising rents. We have gentrification. We have people being displaced.”
Loving goes on: “All of that together is creating an untenable situation for thousands and thousands of families and individuals who are trying to live and work here.”
While some of Google’s staff are left on the street others are purchasing luxury condos. The income gap between Google’s staff is staggering. These large gaps in income have also led to conflicts about how Google should address the housing problem.
Some of Mount View's wealthier residents are even pushing for the city to kick the van dwellers off the street. As the journalist Alistair Barr reports from a local meeting reacting to Google's plan to invest in lower incoming housing:
"Some Silicon Valley residents don’t want new apartment buildings changing their suburban towns, and they get angry at the thought of affordable housing bringing poorer people to their neighborhoods. Two years ago, about 500 local residents showed up at a meeting to discuss small, temporary housing in San Jose. Many screamed and shouted at Loving and her colleagues. At one point, the crowd chanted “build a wall” to keep homeless people away."
Will Google’s new efforts be enough?
Much of this, it is clear, will be a matter of who is actually going to be provided with the housing that Google has promised – the lower income residents being displaced or the higher income IT labor force that continues to grow in the region.
Some are not feeling optimistic about the future of the area under Google's hands:
If [Google] were to build five times that amount — 100,000 units over the next decade — it probably still wouldn’t solve the housing crisis,” said Jesse Gundersheim, CoStar Group’s director of market analytics for the San Francisco Bay Area."