By Christopher Carbone
Published January 17, 2019
In what is the largest pledge in its 44-year history, Microsoft is spending $500 million to address the housing shortage in Seattle that's been exacerbated by the influx of tech-fueled growth and the exponential rise in prices.
The funds will be used to preserve affordable housing, spark construction of new units and work with nonprofits to improve the affordable housing issues facing the entire Puget Sound region, the company said in a statement. The homeless crisis in Seattle has been well-documented and the city recently proposed turning City Hall into a homeless shelter.
"If we're going to make any progress, we'll all need to work together as a community," Microsoft President Brad Smith and Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood said in a joint blog post. "Ultimately, a healthy business needs to be part of a healthy community. And a healthy community must have housing within reach of every part of the community, including the many dedicated people who provide the vital services on which we all rely."
The company statement says that Puget Sound has become the sixth most expensive housing region in the country — with a 21 percent increase in jobs since 2011 but only a 13 percent increase in housing units. Vast numbers of tech workers in the region have pushed housing prices up dramatically. In addition, the company's analysis notes that there's a gap of 305,000 housing units for low- and middle-income folks in the Puget Sound region.
The commitment from Microsoft includes $225 million for preserving and developing middle-income housing; $250 million to support low-income housing; and $25 million in philanthropic grants to address homelessness.
"Our announcement today is an important start, but it’s just the beginning. It will take years of dedicated work for the region to put this problem behind it," Smith and Hood said in the blog post.
Big Tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have all faced increasing pressure to be better corporate citizens as issues of income inequality and gentrification have entered the country's mainstream discourse and as the companies have continued to expand their footprints across the United States.
In New York City, Amazon has faced a backlash from local politicians, activist groups and some residents over its plan to open a second headquarters for 25,000 employees on the waterfront in Long Island City, Queens. The company is set to benefit from $3 billion in state and city tax breaks and subsidies in exchange for opening a campus in New York.