Can Big Tech Curb A Housing Crisis It Helped Cause?

Affordable housing has become a crisis on the West Coast, due in large part to the expansion of the tech industry. Cities like San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle have all seen rising housing costs with the influx of tech workers who tend to make much more money than natives who aren’t employed by a major tech company. This has prompted Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to chip in, but some community members are saying it’s too little, too late.

Affordable housing has become a crisis on the West Coast, due in large part to the expansion of the tech industry. Recently, these major tech companies have pledged money and support to curb the affordable housing crisis in their communities, but it has left some community members wondering if they're doing enough, and if it's too little, too late.

"We're being ignored." Liz González, a contributor at Silicon Valley De-Bug, voiced her concerns about the expansion of Google into San José. "We're being displaced, and folks who have no long term interests in this community get to decide what it looks like and who gets to live here."

The Bay Area, which includes major cities like San Francisco and San Jose, has the third largest population of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. behind New York City and Los Angeles. Seattle comes in at number four in the U.S. In the Bay Area, 64% of those individuals are unsheltered, and in Seattle, 47% are unsheltered.

The growing number of tech workers created a housing shortage in the Bay Area, with an 8.4% increase in population and less than a 5% increase in housing units between 2010 and 2018. The increasing salaries of these tech workers created staggering housing prices, with software engineers making a starting salary of about $160,000 annually at Apple, Google and Facebook, 40% more than the national average for the same job. Rent prices in the Bay Area increased 21% from 2010 to 2017 when adjusted for inflation. For context, in the same time period, rent prices in New York City increased 9%. These were major contributing factors to the Bay Area's housing crisis.

"They're making it very difficult for people who's been here for a very long time to live here," explained Tamara Mitchell, a volunteer at the Coalition On Homelessness in San Francisco. Tamara has experienced homelessness due to the lack of affordable housing in the area. "It kind of feels like they're pushing you out of your home."

For U.S.-based tech-related jobs in 2018, Google employed 95% white or Asian individuals and 74% male-identified individuals, Apple employed 84% white or Asian individuals and 77% male-identified individuals, and Facebook employed 93% white or Asian individuals and 78% male-identified individuals. A high percent of these tech employees live and work in the Bay Area. However, according to estimated data from the Census Bureau in 2018, the Bay Area is home to 67% white or Asian individuals. Tech companies are disproportionately hiring white and Asian male-identified individuals for tech jobs, leaving lower-wage jobs for mostly black, Hispanic and Latinx individuals.

Google has pledged $1 billion to help stop the housing crisis. Facebook helped create the Partnership for the Bay's Future which will gather $500 million for the cause. Apple is giving $2.5 billion to the cause, and in Seattle, Microsoft is chipping in $500 million, while neighbors Amazon have opened a homeless shelter on their downtown campus. Amazon also says it's contributed $38 billion into Seattle's economy since 2010.

The affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area and Seattle is changing the landscape and makeup of the communities that fostered the tech boom. Companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have stepped up to provide support, but some believe their contributions are more for the press than for the sake of the community. Regardless of their intentions, many West Coast communities are calling out for help as they tackle this state of emergency caused by companies created in their own backyards.

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Xinhua 20 Feb 2020 11:30 CET

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