Silicon Valley is ground zero for atypical employee benefits. At Facebook in Menlo Park, Calif., employees ride communal bicycles between buildings and eat for free at more than 24 restaurants. No matter where you sit, you’re never far from a “microkitchen,” with all-you-can-consume sodas and snacks. And don’t forget the massages and haircuts — all gratis.
But there’s one perk Silicon Valley hasn’t offered employees: their own apartments. And that’s about to change. This summer, both Facebook and Google proposed multimillion-dollar projects to build self-contained towns near their headquarters — towns complete with grocery stores, shops, cafes, movie theaters, gyms, and hundreds of apartments.
In doing so, these two tech behemoths could transform what it means to live and work in Silicon Valley, one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S., and simultaneously alter the traditional relationship between employer and employee across the tech sector. Since Facebook and Google are industry standard-bearers, tech companies in other big cities where rents are skyrocketing and commutes are horrible — from Seattle to Boston to Washington — may soon be expected to offer workers two-bedroom apartments with views, within easy walking distance of their office.
Think of it as the “the company town disrupted.” That’s how Allison Arieff, editorial director of the urban planning think tank SPUR, described what Facebook and Google are proposing.
“The lengths companies will go to attract the best and brightest are unprecedented. Many new employees have the expectation that their employer will compensate them extremely well but will also operate private transportation shuttles to get them to work; feed them three organic, chef-prepared meals a day; and provide them with onsite services, ranging from haircuts to doggie day care to doctor appointments,” wrote Arieff in an article for ArchitectureBoston. “It is not surprising then, in hot markets that accompany the healthiest economic ecosystems, that housing might be seen as the ultimate amenity. It certainly is becoming an obstacle, if not the biggest obstacle, to hiring in these locations.”
Indeed, lots of other tech companies are struggling to attract talent to areas where too many workers are competing for too few houses. One reason Amazon is searching for a second headquarters is the squeeze it has put on Seattle, where the rise in home prices topped the nation this summer. Real estate values are skyrocketing in Silicon Valley, too. The Mercury News in San Jose, California, recently reported that the median price of a single-family home in Santa Clara County, which is home to both Google and Apple, hit $1.05 million in August. That’s a 14.6 percent jump over the previous year. Apartments aren’t any less expensive. Monthly rent for a typical one-bedroom in Menlo Park runs $3,300. According to a recent poll, those prices are alarming Californians. Half of them said they are considering moving due to the steep cost of living.
And, as Arieff points out, real estate is on the minds of tech executives. Jim Morgensen, vice president of Global Workplace Services for LinkedIn, told the Boston Society of Architects that “[h]ousing affordability has become a critical issue companies are facing in the Bay Area in terms of their ability to attract and retain talent, and as an employer, we need to support the creation of additional housing near jobs and transit.”
Of course, the factory town isn’t a new concept. Mill towns and other company towns proliferated across the U.S. and Europe during the Industrial Revolution and into the early 20th century. During that period, notes Arieff, companies began to become “more paternalistic, providing not just jobs but housing, healthcare, schools, libraries, churches, and stores. This generosity was less altruistic than strategic: Companies could improve working conditions while deterring workers from activism and unionization.”
For its part, Facebook said in July that it’s trying to address fast-growing problems — a dearth of homes and overburdened transportation infrastructure — in Silicon Valley, and acting because local governments are slow to address the issues. “The region’s failure to continue to invest in our transportation infrastructure alongside growth has led to congestion and delay,” John Tenanes, Facebook’s head of real estate, wrote in a blog post. The new development, which Facebook has dubbed the Willow Campus, will create the kind of housing density necessary to accommodate the area’s growth.
In its current form, Facebook’s planned community (Wired magazine called it Facebookville) would include 1.75 million square feet of new office space, 1,500 housing units, a 112,500-square-foot hotel, a cultural center, new transit hub, two new parks, and 125,000 square feet of retail space, including a small grocery store, pharmacy and other stores…..Read More>>>