As the company prepares to bring thousands of new workers to its Menlo Park campus, advocates say it must do more to help lower-income local residents
The first time Tameeka Bennett had to drive two hours in traffic to get to her job in East Palo Alto, she broke down in tears in her car. It was October 2014, and Bennett, 29, had never imagined she would have to move away from the Silicon Valley city where she grew up, which is one of the least affluent communities in the region.
But her family had lost their home to foreclosure, and they couldnt find an affordable house to buy in East Palo Alto. So they were forced to move to Oakland, which is 40 miles north and a nightmarish commute away from Bennetts job as executive director of Youth United for Community Action, an East Palo Alto not-for-profit group that fights displacement.
While Bennett recognizes that there are multiple factors driving the regions housing crisis, its hard for her to ignore the most obvious force less than three miles north of her organization: the Facebook headquarters.
This week, Bennett and other northern California advocates are pressuring Facebook to make substantial investments in affordable housing as the powerful social networking company pushes forward with a major expansion that experts say will drive up housing prices and exacerbate income inequality in the center of the booming tech economy.
The brewing dispute over Facebooks expansion in Menlo Park which is adjacent to East Palo Alto and not far from the headquarters of Apple and Google has exposed what many critics of the industry see as a glaring contradiction in the tech sector. That is, these hugely profitable companies cast themselves as do-gooder innovators creating transformative technology, but in their own backyard, theyre contributing to a crisis that has grave consequences for disadvantaged communities and theyre doing little to disrupt the poverty plaguing their neighbors.
Menlo Park officials and residents debated Facebooks growth plans during a lengthy city council meeting that dragged on past midnight on Tuesday evening. The public discussion came one day after reports that founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are exploring ways that their new philanthropic organization could help alleviate the high cost of housing in the region.
Facebook which set up its huge campus in Menlo Park in 2011 has proposed two new office buildings that would add roughly 126,000 sq ft to its campus, along with a 200-room hotel. The project is expected to bring more than 6,500 new employees to Facebook and the hotel, which would increase the entire Menlo Park workforce by more than 20%.
As part of the expansion, Facebook is required to contribute $6.3m to below-market-rate housing.
The company further agreed to provide $350,000 for a study of housing conditions; $1.5m for a housing innovation fund for various initiatives; $1m for for a preservation fund to buy and protect units housing at-risk populations; and $2.15m for reduced rents in 22 units of workforce housing, with priority given to teachers.