Tech titan Google announced an intent to contribute $1 billion toward fighting the Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis, inviting a chorus of cheers from local officials and the broader business community.
Over the coming decade, the Mountain View company declared a willingness to dedicate $750 million in land for housing development, plus establish a $250 million investment fund to incentivize further residential construction. An additional $50 million will be granted toward stemming homelessness and displacement.
The effort, which is expected to lay the groundwork for construction of 20,000 units across the region, was lauded widely by elected officials and business advocates.
Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, celebrated the company’s decision Tuesday, June 18.
“It’s a recognition that everyone — cities, businesses, nonprofits and developers — has a role to play in building the tens of thousands of units of housing we need so that everyone, from tech workers to working class families, can afford to have a roof over their heads,” said an email from Berman, who represents the district where Google is headquartered.
Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, shared a similar sentiment as well.
“I applaud Google for stepping up,” he said. “It’s a recognition of the affordable housing crisis that we are all living through.”
His sentiment mirrored the perspective from a prepared statement by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I applaud Google’s leadership for stepping forward to build affordable homes for California’s working families. I hope today’s announcement inspires other companies — big and small — to make similar direct investments in housing affordability throughout our state,” he said.
Bay Area Council spokesman Matt Regan agreed with Newsom regarding the potential for a precedent to be set.
“I hope that it is an incentive for other stakeholders to step up and make similar contributions,” said Regan, vice president of the business development advocacy agency.
Rosanne Foust, president of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, also recognized the company’s contribution.
“The government has asked companies to step up, residents have asked companies to step up and this is an awesome example of a company stepping up,” she said.
Regan noted though Google’s initiative does come with strings attached, as the highest value associated with the contribution is the company’s land which is currently not zoned for residential development.
Google projected as many as 15,000 new homes could be built should officials agree to rezone the property, much of which is located in the South Bay, from currently solely supporting industrial or commercial uses to accommodating residential development.
While Google CEO Sundar Pinchai said in a blog post the company is working alongside officials to facilitate the zoning amendments, Regan asserted compromise is essential to bring the bold vision to fruition.
“One billion dollars is great, but unless we have cooperation with local government, we are still going to be having the problems we have,” he said.
Mullin too said such partnerships require contributions from government representatives to assure efforts by the private sector are most effective.
“This isn’t the end-all-be-all. It will require a response from the local government, but I think it is now incumbent on local governments to see the opportunity that exists here,” he said.
Broadening his perspective, Mullin said he believed officials throughout the Bay Area need to start examining the opportunities presented by reconsidering existing zoning standards.
“This will force a conversation in our county about how we develop public-private partnerships on company properties and how we have that conversation about rezoning,” he said. “It will most certainly trigger what might be a difficult conversation — but an encouraging one.”
Recognizing the limited amount of available space for development, as well as the placement of many large tech companies along the Bayshore, Mullin said the conversations must also keep an eye to sea level rise and other environmental factors.
Optimistic such discussions will continue, Mullin said the most recent contribution from Google stands to make a significant dent in the area’s affordability crisis.
“I think public-private partnerships will be absolutely necessary if the Bay Area is going to keep pace with the level of housing production that will be needed,” he said.
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