The view toward Lighthouse Field on West Cliff.
The view toward Lighthouse Field on West Cliff.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Big tech, little affordable housing: County asks Facebook, Apple, Google to own part of this market’s problem

Even though Santa Cruz County has long been a bedroom community for Silicon Valley tech workers, the county has received little help from tech giants Facebook, Apple and Google to manage a festering housing affordability crisis, county supervisors say. Last week, county leaders wrote letters asking their over-the-hill neighbors for more aid with the problem.

Santa Cruz County leaders want big tech companies over the hill to help battle housing affordability problems in their backyard.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted last week to send letters to Silicon Valley giants Facebook, Apple and Google, asking them to consider providing financial contributions to affordable housing projects in the county.

“Our local housing market has been drastically impacted by corporate and tech growth in Silicon Valley with a number of employees seeking housing in Santa Cruz County,” the Jan. 29 letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai read.

“While some of these employers have made significant financial contributions to increase the supply of affordable housing in other Bay Area cities, none of these contributions are being made available to developments in our area, despite Santa Cruz having served as a bedroom community for Silicon Valley for decades.”

Supervisors also sent the same letter to the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, a San Jose-based nonprofit community loan fund that works to create affordable housing in the greater Bay Area.

The tech giants are contributing “significant funding” to help meet a similar affordability crisis there, according to the Jan. 26 agenda item from supervisors Ryan Coonerty and Zach Friend. But since Santa Cruz is not formally considered part of the Bay Area, those funds have not been available for Santa Cruz housing developments, the agenda item states, “despite the fact that our high housing prices are significantly impacted by the demand from Silicon Valley workers.”

The letter to the behemoth companies, signed by Board of Supervisors Chairperson Bruce McPherson, states that there are many affordable housing projects across the county “that could use additional support and while public financial assistance is made available when possible, supplementary sources are often needed.”

Private financial assistance to market-rate developers, the supervisors say , could make those projects more feasible.

“Given these realities, we think it is important to reach out to our over-the-hill neighbors and solicit your assistance in responding (to) the affordable housing crisis that we all share,” they wrote.

A request for comment from Apple to see if the company planned on providing aid to Santa Cruz County was not immediately returned. A spokesman for Google said in an email Tuesday that the company is aware of the letter and that its local housing policy contact is “looking forward to connecting” with McPherson. A Facebook spokesperson said the company’s giving went to the Bay Area and beyond, but did not yet have specifics to share about initiatives in Santa Cruz County.

Silicon Valley tech companies, which have been criticized for exacerbating housing affordability problems in the Bay Area, have in recent years, pledged millions to help fix the crisis.

Google and the Housing Trust Silicon Valley in July last year, announced the creation of an affordable housing fund “aimed to accelerate the start-up and preservation of homes.” In June 2019, Google also announced it was investing $1 billion in housing across the Bay Area over the next decade to create up to 20,000 homes.

Facebook followed with a similar announcement a few months later, saying in October 2019 that it was committing $1 billion to help address affordable housing issues in California and other communities, creating up to 20,000 new homes for teachers, nurses, first responders and other essential workers.

A quarter of that investment is for a partnership with the state of California “for mixed-income housing on excess state-owned land in communities where housing is scarce,” according to an announcement from the social media giant at the time.

The company also earmarked $150 million for affordable housing in the Bay Area and $25 million to build teacher and essential worker housing on public land for school districts in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

Apple in November 2019 announced committing $2.5 billion to help combat the housing crisis in the state.