When we work with local communities, we typically hear from elected officials, local government staff and affordable housing advocates about how important it is to “engage the business community” on the issue of affordable housing. Bringing employers to the table around meeting housing needs is critical for several reasons. Perhaps most compelling for them is the fact that when a community has an insufficient supply of affordable and appropriate housing, quality of life suffers, workers face longer commutes, and businesses face more employee turnover and added cost of hiring and training new workers.
However, it is often difficult to determine the specific “ask” of the employer community. What do the elected officials, government staff and advocates want their local businesses to do, specifically?
Google is demonstrating a very clear set of actions that a local employer can play in making housing more affordable. While Google is not a typical company, and its actions and investments likely cannot be duplicated by many other businesses across the country, the types of approaches that Google is taking could provide inspiration for other companies and their public-sector and nonprofit partners.
On June 18, Google announced that it would invest $1 billion in housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company’s investment comes in three forms:
- The company is repurposing $750 million worth of Google-owned land for housing. Currently, much of that land is zoned for commercial uses, so Google is committing to working through the process with local municipalities to get the necessary zoning changes to accommodate 15,000 new housing units, including housing affordable to low-income families.
- Google is also establishing a $250 million investment fund to provide incentives to developers to build an additional 5,000 affordable housing units throughout the region.
- Through Google.org, the company is making $50 million in grants available to regional nonprofits working to address homelessness and displacement.
The amount of money and the number of housing units Google is talking about is staggering but so, too, is the affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area. But what can other communities facing housing challenges—but without a Google—learn from the company’s actions?
Google’s investments underscore the three “asks” that local communities can make as they engage with local employers. Do local businesses have vacant or underutilized land that could be used for housing? Can local businesses contribute to a fund to support the development of affordable housing? Is there a way that the employer community can provide resources to local nonprofit organizations working on the hardest housing issues?
Employers in your community may want to be part of the housing solution but they may not know where to begin. Or they may not have been asked!