Why Big Tech Billions Won't Dent California's Housing Crisis

New multibillion-dollar affordable housing commitments from leading tech firms may build out thousands of units, but that's nothing next to California's gargantuan housing shortage.

2 minute read

November 9, 2019, 1:00 PM PST

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

Cupertino, California

Uladzik Kryhin / Shutterstock

"The cost of housing has caused people to flee one of the hottest job markets in the nation, in one of the most beautiful places on earth," writes Conor Dougherty of the Golden State's housing crisis. 

This year, Google, Apple, and Facebook have all thrown in billions of investment dollars to address the shortage. Though laudable, those efforts alone probably won't make much of a difference. One reason is the absurdly high cost of subsidized housing. A single unit in California averages around $450,000, and that figure balloons even higher in the big metros, Dougherty reports. 

"Given those figures, the $4.5 billion that Google, Apple and Facebook have earmarked would create about 10,000 housing units." But against the state's housing deficit of roughly 3.5 million units, that's a pittance. 

According to Carol Galante of UC Berkeley's Terner Center for Housing Innovation, "These investments are an opportunity, because clearly the tech companies want to engage [...] but not having them coordinated with the larger conversation about how we are going to make the public policy changes that the Legislature is struggling with — unless you marry those things together, it's not going to work."

Decades of political decisions favoring slow (or no) housing development set the stage for California's current predicament. Democratic state senator Scott Wiener, the backer of several bills to reduce barriers to housing, all of which have failed so far, put it this way: "California cities have systematically made it hard to impossible to build housing, and money can't fix that."

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