Harangued by members of Congress for violating people’s privacy, suppressing free speech, and generally throwing their – considerable – weight around, Big Tech companies have opened a counteroffensive directed at another problem they are blamed for: Apple, Google, and Facebook are pledging to spend billions to alleviate an acute housing shortage in the cities where they operate.
Whether it’s the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Portland, or any other location where tech giants have a major presence, one thing these cities all have in common: Unless you are at the top of the income pyramid, you can’t afford to live there. The high salaries paid to techies and their bosses drive up housing costs, particularly when local governments have gone to extraordinary means to ensure that supply doesn’t keep pace with demand.
Apple recently announced it’s shelling out $2.5 billion that will go into an affordable housing investment fund and into the construction of affordable housing on property the company owns. That’s fine, as far as it goes. However, putting homes within reach of people living in or near tech enclaves will require more than charity. The real problem lies with local governments – often in league with deep-pocketed elites – who cook up regulations specifically designed to limit the supply of housing thereby keeping the rubes out.
Writing in The Hill (Nov. 11), Ethan Blevins, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), points to a simple truth.
“If you want housing to be affordable, you need to build more of it,” he says. “And when housing demand increases because of economic growth, prices surge upward unless supply keeps pace. It isn’t demand’s fault if supply lags.”
He notes that San Francisco, “ground zero for California’s housing crisis,” saw rent shoot up 29.5% between 2012 and 2018, while supply grew 2.8%. Something had to give, and did.
“Governments Cage Growth”
As Blevins explains:
“The problem is two-fold: first, governments cage growth. Urban growth boundaries prevent growth from expanding outward, and single-family zoning, minimal lot size, and density limits prevent commonsense increases in supply like duplexes in residential areas and taller buildings in urban areas. As these regulatory forces strangle supply, the market must compensate through higher prices.
Second, well-heeled residents pressure local governments to halt development and shirk regulatory reform. The people who stand to benefit from stopping growth are a well-organized group of elites with a lot at stake, while the benefits of growth, though substantial, are spread among everyone. It’s not hard to figure out who shows up more often at city hall to crack their knuckles.”
Amid all the wealth Big Tech has created, there is incredible squalor on the streets of San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Palo Alto and elsewhere where the tech companies hold court. Sprawling, stinking tent cities with feces, urine, and needles galore are there because local officials refuse to carry out the most basic precautions to protect public health. Meanwhile those same officials congratulate themselves for practicing “smart growth,” instituting “sustainable,” carbon-free building codes, banning plastic bags, and combatting climate change.
Where there are acute housing shortages and sky-high prices for what few homes are on the market, you will also find regulations that preclude another outcome. At the same time, you are likely to encounter policies that are transforming streets and sidewalks into bastions of filth and disease.