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Microsoft pledges $500 million to address Seattle’s affordable housing problem

Aims to lessen negative impact of tech boom on Seattle residents

Microsoft has pledged $500 million to fund the construction of affordable housing in the Seattle area.

The effort is a move to address criticism that tech companies have pushed lower income residents out of their communities, as an influx of well-paid tech employees have descended on the area, driving up home prices and making Seattle one of the most expensive cities to live in the nation.  

Microsoft is headquartered in Seattle, where it employs about 50,000 people. It said that median home prices in the area soared 96% from 2011 to 2018, while median household income rose 34%. The company estimated that there is a shortage of more than 300,000 housing units for middle- and low-income families, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Microsoft said $475 million will be used to fund construction loans for affordable housing over the next three years, while the remaining $25 million will fund grants that address homelessness.

Microsoft has been vocal about taking steps to counter the negative impact of technology, recently promoting federal regulation of facial recognition technology. The company also declined to take a position on a proposed tax law that would require Seattle-area businesses to pay a per-employee tax to fund services for the homeless and support affordable housing. Amazon successfully blocked the proposal.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said affordable housing is one issue tech companies need to address when assessing their impact on local communities, the WSJ reported.

“Increasingly we have to ask ourselves not just how we benefit from the communities in which we work, but how we help these communities grapple with all these changes,” Smith said.

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