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Google Pledges $1 Billion For Affordable Housing

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The tech explosion in the Bay Area has made San Francisco a city for the rich. Housing is simply unaffordable for wide swaths of the population. Now Google is pledging more than a billion dollars to try and fix the problem they helped create. Here's Rachael Myrow of member station KQED.

RACHAEL MYROW, BYLINE: First, over the next 10 years, Google is promising to repurpose at least $750 million worth of its own land. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo calls the move the antidote to Amazon. He's referring to the blowback Amazon received when it went shopping for a new headquarters in North America looking for a city willing to offer major concessions for the privilege. Google, Liccardo says, is going in the other direction.

SAM LICCARDO: This is a company saying, we get it. There are real impacts from our growth on the affordable housing supply in your cities. And we need to do more to help.

MYROW: Google wouldn't comment beyond its blog post in which CEO Sundar Pichai anticipates the land alone could house 15,000 new homes at all income levels in the Bay Area. That last bit is a nod to the fact those not making six figures are finding it hard to rent in the region, let alone own. Rachel Massaro is the director of research for Joint Venture Silicon Valley, which publishes regular economic surveys of the Bay Area.

RACHEL MASSARO: We are seeing an increase in the people that are living in RVs or other temporary shelters. There are people that are living with other families. And we've also seen an increase in mega commuters that are commuting into the region more than three hours daily just to work here and then living elsewhere.

MYROW: Over the last 20 years, tech industry giants like Facebook, Genentech, Microsoft, Cisco, even Google, have helped fund efforts to build housing and tackle homelessness. But this latest announcement is unprecedented. It also includes $250 million to help finance 5,000 affordable housing units and $50 million in grants to help address homelessness and displacement. Alex Shoor is co-founder of Catalyze SV, a nonprofit that advocates for community engagement and development.

ALEX SHOOR: I hope more tech companies will say that regardless of bottom line that this is the solution that requires solving and that the resources can be marshaled and the political will can be built to get there.

MYROW: In his blog post, Google CEO Pichai writes solving a big issue like the housing shortage will take collaboration. He's talking about government, businesses and community organizations working together. Housing advocates are already thinking about collaboration in even bigger terms, suggesting Google has raised the bar for other tech companies in the region. For NPR News, I'm Rachael Myrow in San Jose.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "SLACK")

MARTIN: And we should note Google is a financial supporter of NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.