Two months after Amazon announced that a homeless shelter would be part of its in-the-works HQ, Facebook is also leaping into the housing game.
On Friday, the social media giant made public its plans to turn 56 acres of Menlo Park real estate into living space, complete with 1,500 homes, a grocery store, a park and a transit center, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Facebook wants to call the new development Willow Campus, but approval from the city is still pending. The company submitted its plans on Thursday, but city officials have not yet commented on them, though Facebook has already commissioned architectural firm OMA New York for design work. Facebook hopes to begin construction in 2019 and open its first buildings to occupants by 2021.
“We understand that the challenges with congestion are regional, and I think as we continue to grow we see ourselves as being able to lend our partnership to potential solutions,” Juan Salazar, the company’s public policy manager, said in a video introducing the development. “The Willow Campus, I think, is a way for us to create some of that density.”
The area’s congestion can, of course, be traced to both geography and restrictive building codes (density is still a bad word in many parts of once-rural California), but Reuters on Friday placed some of the blame with the companies that employ all of those workers clogging the streets in single-occupancy cars (and comfy shuttles).
The growth of Facebook, Alphabet Inc’s Google and other tech companies has strained neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay area that were not prepared for an influx of tens of thousands of workers during the past decade. Home prices and commute times have risen.
Tech companies have responded with measures such as internet-equipped buses for employees with long commutes. Facebook has offered at least $10,000 in incentives to workers who move closer to its offices.
Those steps, though, have not reduced complaints that tech companies are making communities unaffordable, and they have mostly failed to address the area’s housing shortage.
As Susie Cagle wrote for Next City in 2015:
In a region in the grips of a controversial housing crisis spurred in no small part by an influx of high-paid tech talent, Silicon Valley companies on the whole appear comparatively disinterested in funding the affordable homes these cities so desperately need.
Of more than $100 million in community benefits for its new campus, Apple is paying only $2.5 million to Cupertino for the construction of affordable housing. Facebook subsidized 15 affordable units in an apartment complex now under construction, but a source at the company was dismissive of the idea that the social network would become a major player in local home building. The company’s proposed housing projects, largely if not solely restricted to Facebook employees, recall a robber baron era of worker welfare.
The new announcement would seem to signal a change for Mark Zuckerberg’s empire, and just in time, too.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.