Tech giant to spend $500m dealing with housing crisis caused by tech giants

Redmond to throw cash at the problem, hopes some might stick to affordable homes

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Microsoft has revealed it is to spank the best part of $500m on attempting to deal with the lack of affordable housing in the Seattle area.

The region has seen massive growth as tech companies moved in and the giants of the industry like, er, Microsoft, have expanded enormously. The effect of the boom has been to drive up house prices, leaving behind those not enjoying gangbuster salaries.

Microsoft cited figures that make for depressing reading. While jobs in the region have grown 21 per cent since 2011, available housing has lagged at 13 per cent, leading to a 96 per cent jump in house prices over the last eight years and making the Greater Seattle area the sixth most expensive in the US.

Stating the blindingly obvious, the company said median income hasn't kept up with the rising costs for the likes of teachers and first responders, groups that have been priced out of the area that face long commutes each day.

Rather than call for an increase in salary for those key non-tech workers (asking if a nurse might be worth a bit more than the individual who inflicted Clippy on the world is not on the table), Microsoft instead plans to "advance affordable housing solutions" and put serious cash where its mouth is.

$225m is going on middle income housing in cities east of Seattle (such as Redmond), $250m will support low income housing across the entire King County region, and finally $25m is going on philanthropic grants to work on the thorny issue of homelessness.

Grants aside, Microsoft is expecting "lower than market rate returns" on the money it is investing.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Microsoft's neighbour and cloudy rival Amazon, promised $2bn in an eponymous "Bezos Day One Fund" in 2018 aimed at handing cash to non-profits that help homeless families and fund preschools in low-income areas.

The grand gesture was, alas, offset somewhat by Amazon's earlier posturing over a proposed "employee head tax" aimed at tackling homelessness and building affordable housing. The box flinger's lobbying proved successful, and the tax was shelved.

Microsoft has taken a principled stand on societal issues, such as accessibility, privacy and ethical behaviour in recent years, although not so much that it would step back from flogging technology to the US intelligence services.

The company is, however, serious about the housing problem and admitted that while the investment is substantial, it is only a start and "it will take years of dedicated work for the region to put this problem behind it". ®


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