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Google plan would build housing at slower rate than SF, San Jose

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“It’s clear that a tech giant alone cannot solve the housing crisis”

Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Photo via

In June, Google promised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and provide acres of its land to develop new homes around the Bay Area, with a goal of 20,000 new units by 2030.

However, if compared to the standard rate of housing growth in Bay Area counties, Google’s contribution looks pretty average—in that it is less than or comparable to the average number of homes added each year.

Consider the following:

  • Simple math shows that the 20,000 by 2030 goal comes out to 1,818 homes each year—or 2,000 even if the counting doesn’t start until 2020.
  • According to the census, in 2010 San Francisco had 372,560 units of housing citywide, whereas the most recent estimates push that number to 390,376—more than 2,545 new units on average, far more than Google’s number. According to the San Francisco’s most recent housing inventory report, the city added 2,579 new units in 2018—which was actually a paltry number since it was a 42 percent reduction from the previous year, but still represents a far more ambitious number than that proposed by the tech giant.
  • In Santa Clara County, the census estimates a gain of 26,489 new homes since 2010, or about 3,784 per year. By far the majority of that growth happened in San Jose, which yielded an average increase of 2,496 new homes per year during that period.
  • Housing growth has been less robust in Alameda County during the same time, but the county did average a total of 2,049 new units each year per the census, up to nearly 597,000 in 2017. Oddly, the total number of units in Oakland declined during that period, from 169,710 in 2010 down to 169,303—but the rest of the county absorbed the difference.
  • If Google really wants to make a dent in the housing crisis, it would probably be in San Mateo County. Since 2010, the census records that the Silicon Valley region added only 4,078 new homes, a downright anemic rate of 582 per year.

Keep in mind that this represents the net gain of units per year and that the actual number of new homes built is always a bit higher.

Also note that cities like San Francisco constantly have a huge number of units “in the pipeline”—i.e., new projects that have been approved or are on their way to approval but have not yet finished (or in some cases started) construction.

Nor are the cities and counties in question even doing particularly well when it comes to fostering more housing: The 2010 to 2017 span includes 2012, for example, when San Francisco added only 1,279 new housing units at a time when its population rose by 13,461 people.

Even with these limitations in place, if Google was a county, its housing plan for 2030 would be considered modest at best.

This is not to say that the company’s planned housing contribution is not valuable or appreciated—indeed, realizing that in some places Google could effectively double the amount of new housing created each year is remarkable.

Google’s timing was good as pressure had mounted for the company to offer more housing as part of its plan for its new headquarters in downtown San Jose. Gov. Gavin Newsom responded to the news saying he was “grateful for the leadership” of the company on this issue.

Meanwhile, the regional population continues to rise even in the face of recent sputtering in growth—up 21,000 persons just between 2017 and 2018, according to the U.S. Census.

But it’s clear that a tech giant alone cannot solve the housing crisis.