Billions from Apple, Google, Facebook won't make a dent in California housing crisis

Apple's plan to invest $2.5 billion in affordable housing, like those of Google and Facebook before it, will do little to address California's housing crisis until city and state governments make pledges of their own, The New York Times reports.

In the months leading up to Apple's Nov. 4 pledge to tackle its home state's lack of available, affordable housing, Facebook and Google each allotted $1 billion for similar plans; Microsoft, too, has announced plans to spend $500 million addressing Seattle's own housing crisis.

While these investments may be perceived as big tech's penance for a crisis created by their rapidly growing empires, according to the Times, the lack of affordable housing actually stems in large part from restrictive state and local policies.

Even before Apple and its peers began drawing thousands of skilled workers to the state at rates unsustainable by the housing market, California legislators and homeowners had established a precedent of stalling or outright rejecting proposals to increase the availability of affordable housing. Until tech companies can break down this tradition, then, their billions will not provide the sweeping reforms they have pledged.

According to statistics from the University of California Berkeley's Terner Center for Housing Innovation, cited by the Times, it costs about $450,000 to build a single unit of subsidized affordable housing in California. If tech companies' investments are augmented by other funding sources, they could therefore produce about 20,000 units per $1 billion investment — no small feat, but nowhere near the 3.5 million units the McKinsey Global Institute has reportedly said the state must add by 2025 to address the shortage.

"For 50 years, California has been designed around the idea that everyone will have a single-family home with a yard, that they will drive everywhere, and that geometry no longer works," state Sen. Scott Wiener told the Times. "California cities have systematically made it hard to impossible to build housing, and money can't fix that."

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