Facebook invests $20M to catalyze affordable housing development in Menlo Park

Across the Bay Area, affordable housing remains hard to come by. In a climate where many displaced residents point their blame at the techies, Facebook has decided to invest $20 million in what it calls “A partnership to strengthen our local community.”

In just the last six years, San Mateo County has added 54,000 new jobs while only building 2,148 new housing units to support growth, according to a memo from the county. A large number of these jobs were born from the region’s high-paying tech sector. Facebook alone is expected to increase the employee count of its Menlo Park offices to over 7,000 in the coming months.

Facebook’s plan to combat the lack of affordable housing is to build a coalition of community groups, philanthropies and companies to try to force action on the issue. Together the new partnership will focus on increasing the stock of affordable housing, generating new economic opportunities and supporting the legal needs of residents threatened with eviction and unsuitable living conditions.

“We recognize our growth contributes to these challenges, and we’re committed to helping solve them so people can afford to live and work here,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Facebook post on the subject. 

To start, the partnership will consist of Facebook, the local governments of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park in addition to a number of other local groups including Youth United for Community Action, Faith in Action Bay Area, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and Comité de Vecinos del Lado Oeste.

The vast majority of the company’s investment will be used to establish a Catalyst Housing Fund for “innovative and scalable” affordable housing. The specifics of what this $18.5 million pot will be used to finance haven’t been disclosed.

At a recent community event, Menlo Park locals tossed around ideas that included efforts to both change public opinion and the letter of the law. A marketing campaign could be used to ease community anxieties about approving new development.

More tangibly, others pointed to repealing the state’s rent-control restricting Costa-Hawkins Act, allowing the conversion of garages to housing units and financing additions on existing houses made available at below-market rates. Facebook wasn’t able to comment on these policy initiatives today, but the company will undoubtedly run into them full force once things get rolling.

“Affordable housing is a problem beyond the Bay Area too,” added Zuckerberg. “We can’t fix it by ourselves, but if we figure out ideas that work here, then I hope we’ll be able to bring them to more cities and countries in the future.”

The rest of the money is being split across a number of secondary initiatives. $250,000 will go to Rebuilding Together Peninsula, a group that supports the renovation of blighted properties. $625,000 is financing job training in technical fields and a new Facebook community liaison to connect residents with jobs at the company. Finally, $500,000 will be funneled into a legal fund for people struggling with landlord abuses and other housing malpractice.

We also contacted the City of Menlo Park for comment and will update this post if and when we hear back.