Facebook insists they are not, in fact, moving to San Francisco. Instead, they’re doing something even more unlikely and unpredictable: Becoming a housing developer.
That’s what the Wall Street Journal reports, anyway. According to them, Facebook plans to build 1,500 new units in the Menlo Park area around its rapidly engorging headquarters.
[Update: Facebook points out that they're not actually building the units themselves, merely designing and planning them.]
While it’s not particularly unusual for big companies to provide employee housing, the general public will be allowed to move into these Facebook suites, and the company will price 225 of them as affordable housing. So rather than Facebook building housing for Facebook, Facebook has just decided to build housing.
Of course, Zuckerberg and his crew aren’t doing this just as a grand gesture for the community. Facebook wants to grow its headquarters and add well more than 6,000 new employees. The apartments, and the public access to their leases, is just one way that the company can sweeten the pot for skeptical neighbors.
Oddly enough, the move comes with some risks. For one thing, it could be read as a tacit admission that the tech boom is driving the housing crisis.
This is hardly a groundbreaking observation, of course. But Silicon Valley companies usually try to sidestep the issue, if not wash their hands of the whole thing. Pairing a workforce expansion with a housing expansion (although, notably, probably not enough housing for all of the incoming new workers) suggests a cause and effect admission companies usually want to avoid.
Gizmodo also suggests that if the apartments turn out to be high-priced luxury hideaways populated mostly by employees of other tech companies that the optics will end up hurting Facebook’s image, regardless of their material good.
On the other hand, company defenders will no doubt argue that nobody in the Bay Area can afford to look a gift horse in the mouth these days.
And Zuckerberg could deflect criticism by turning it right back at municipalities—i.e., Facebook wouldn’t have to be building housing if growth rates weren’t so sluggish already. The WSJ story comes paired with a frankly startling graphic that drives the point home:
This chart from that story on Facebook and Silicon Valley housing is just nuts: https://t.co/pP8cow4Lw3 @markmuro1 pic.twitter.com/rXm9G60BR0— Alan Berube (@berubea1) July 27, 2016
This is not the first time the social network has decided to become a housing dilettante. It stuck its toes into a nearby apartment development back in 2013. But that was a much smaller project, and initially spearheaded by another company,
- Facebook’s Answer to Housing Crunch [Wall Street Journal]
- Facebook May Come to SF, But Don’t Hold Your Breath [Curbed SF]
- Facebook Proposes Campus Expansion [Chronicle]
- Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends [World Bank]
- Facebook Building Apartments [Gizmodo]
- Facebook’s New Apartments a Little Creepy [Huffington Post]