First of all, kudos to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and team for recognizing the issues around affordable housing in the area of the technology boom. For more context, here is a statement that Mark published on his Facebook page.
Affordable housing is an important problem across the world. Our goal is to connect people everywhere, and that starts with being good neighbors in our local community.
For all the opportunity and jobs the technology industry has created, it has also made the Bay Area a less affordable place to live. We recognize our growth contributes to these challenges, and we’re committed to helping solve them so people can afford to live and work here.
Today we’re announcing a partnership with community groups and the governments of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park to create more affordable housing, help more people stay in their homes, and offer job training. We’re committing $20 million to jump start this effort and to start bringing more people on board.
Affordable housing is a problem beyond the Bay Area too. We can’t fix it by ourselves, but if we figure out ideas that work here, then I hope we’ll be able to bring them to more cities and countries in the future.
I applaud that Facebook has taken the first step. However, I have doubts that the $20 million it is contributing toward affordable housing in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park is the answer. It is a perfect example of short-term thinking and trying to assuage your internal guilt with a check to charity.
Why do I say that? Because on a macro level, Facebook housing focuses on a demographic that is richer and younger than the rest of the population, and the ecosystem that evolves around it simply prices out the have-nots. It happens all the time, and frankly one can’t do much about it. It is either the very rich or the very poor who relocate to the places they can afford.
It would be great to know how much Facebook is doing to make it easy for its non-engineering and management staff to find housing in the area. I’m talking about the people who clean the place and are almost invisible in the company.
What is the plan for education and health care for people who can’t afford the prices that a FB salary enables? Will the company build subsidized schools and clinics? What efforts will the company make in order to alleviate the traffic flows that might result from this growth, and who is going to take on those costs?
I bet the taxes from these few hundred homes aren’t going to pay for the needs of the community. Health care, better education and equitable, higher-quality civic services have been the hallmark of all company towns throughout history. From Pittsburgh to Cleveland to part of industrial United Kingdom, local business giants have stepped up to take care of the “company people.”
Most important, the real question: Why not do this expansion in areas of the country where there is a desperate need for jobs? Even 500 new jobs in those places would lead to some economic activity. I understand the desire to have people next door, but as an employer there are many options for companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Apple.