Google soothes anger with promise to invest $1bn in housing, including affordable

Styling itself "a good neighbour" in a region afflicted by a shortage of affordable housing, internet giant Google says it will invest $1bn for homes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The announcement came on 18 June, the day before a demonstration was scheduled outside a shareholders’ meeting of parent company Alphabet.

Among other issues, campaigners are criticising Google for causing housing hardship as the influx of highly-paid tech workers pushes up rents and house prices.

Specifically, campaigners are angry over Google’s plan to build a huge new campus in San Jose on public land it plans to buy for $110m from the city council. This would reportedly bring in 28,000 more employees, fuelling the gentrification fire.

A report commissioned by one group found that families in San Jose would by hit by rent hikes of $816 each year as a result of the new campus, and that more than 5,000 affordable and 12,500 market-rate homes would be needed to stabilise housing costs.

Meanwhile, the $1bn promised is not all cash. $750m of the sum will be the value of land Google owns that it will rezone over the next 10 years from office-commercial to housing.

The rest, $250m, will go into an investment fund to incentivise developers to build at least 5,000 affordable homes.

The rezoning would see at least 15,000 new homes built at all income levels, Google said. 

To show the significance of that number, it said 3,000 new homes were built in the South Bay area last year.

"We hope this plays a role in addressing the chronic shortage of affordable housing options for long-time middle and low income residents," Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said.

Google said it will also give $50m in grants through to nonprofits tackling homelessness and displacement.

Pichai said: "As we work to build a more helpful Google, we know our responsibility to help starts at home. For us, that means being a good neighbour in the place where it all began over 20 years ago: the San Francisco Bay Area."

One campaign group, Silicon Valley Rising, called the pledge a "big win" after two years of organising rallies, town hall talks and marches. 

It tweeted: "This is a great step in the right direction. We look forward to working with Google to dig into the details and make sure the tech giant partners with diverse communities and takes the additional steps necessary to prevent more rent hikes and displacement as Google grows." 

Image: Protesters call on Google to help stop gentrification (Silicon Valley Rising)

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