Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Microsoft is pledging a half-billion dollars to help middle- and low-income families find affordable housing in the Seattle area, near the software giant's world headquarters.
Various loans and grants will subsidize construction of affordable housing in the area, where home prices have soared 96 percent while income hasn't kept up. Rising rent forces many Seattle-area workers to make long commutes daily because they can't afford to live near the city.
"At some level we as a region are going to need to either say there are certain areas where we're comfortable having more people live, or we just want permanently to force the people who are going to teach our kids in schools, and put out the fires in our houses and keep us alive in the hospital, to spend four hours every day getting to and from work," Microsoft President Chad Smith said in a statement. "That is not, in our view, the best outcome for the community."
Microsoft will invest $225 million for middle-income housing projects in Bellevue, Kirkland, Renton, Issaquah, Sammamish and Redmond, where the company is based. It will invest another $250 million in low-income housing across King Country and $25 million in philanthropic grants to address homelessness in Seattle. That includes a $5 million contribution to the Home Base program started by the Seattle Mariners baseball team. Another $5 million will pay for a new joint agency on homelessness formed by Seattle and King Country.
"With these and similar investments, it's possible to lend money, accelerate progress, be repaid and then lend this money again," Microsoft said. "We're committed to doing our part to help kick-start new solutions to the crisis. Our goal is to move as quickly as possible with targeted investments that will have an outsized impact."
Smith said the funds could be used to build tens of thousands of units, but it will take more than money to fix the housing crisis. Microsoft said another critical need is "public policy change to make it easier and more attractive to build affordable housing."
Mayors from nine of the largest Seattle suburbs have pledged to build affordable housing by changing zoning, providing public transit and addressing the permit process. The pledge is the largest contribution in the company's 44-year history, and could be the largest by any private company toward corporate housing.