Microsoft still working to ‘understand the problem better’ for the $500 million affordable housing investment it promised Seattle

Jonny Caldwell

Many residents in Seattle are already well aware of the expense of living in the city, which is home to the shopping giant Amazon and is the next door neighbor to Microsoft’s hometown Redmond. Despite the city’s strong economy in the tech industry space, the housing crisis has left many employees living a much further distance from the their jobs.

This is why Microsoft announced their $500 million investment in creating more affordable housing in the area back in January. For those who missed our last post, the company promised $25 million in grants in helping those facing eviction, and the remaining $475 to focus on supporting lower income housing and for the creation and preservation middle class homes.

The tech giant hasn’t been clear as exactly where these funds will go aside from its initial investment plan. However, the company’s senior officer for Microsoft Philanthropies, Amy Liu, attended a Seattle Populuxe Brewing event hosted by the Tech 4 Housing advocacy group go explain the challenge of how to make the most of the investment (via GeekWire):

“The learning curve for us has not flattened. I keep waiting for it to flatten. We are not affordable housing experts but we also wanted to move forward with something and be part of coming up with some solutions.”

Microsoft isn’t expected to loan the money to real estate developers or rent the houses to tenants itself, according to Liu. She noted that:

“We really have not figured out how we’re going to deploy the funds. We’re looking at projects and we want flexibility, to be honest.”

To help with this, Microsoft partnered with the online real estate company Zillow to further study the affordable housing problem near its hometown. As per the research findings, the construction of new housing has fallen 13% since 2011, yet job growth has risen a whopping 21%. Additionally, median home prices have nearly doubled in the Puget Sound region in the same period, yet the median average income barely rose by over a third.

Microsoft is looking “to understand the problem better” according to Liu, and as such is continuing to consult with experts on the issue and looking at solutions to help with the construction of new budget-friendly homes. Microsoft hopes to have further details over the next couple months, but for now the details remain unclear.

“There’s a concern in society about the accountability of big tech companies and whom are they accountable to in this day and age,” explained Tech 4 Housing director Ethan Goodman. “One really strong answer is they are very accountable to their employees. It is still a very tough market for talent and the employees at tech companies have a huge amount of leverage over their employers if they act together and if they’re organized.”