Tech companies are often blamed, fairly or not, for helping to make the cities where they are based unaffordable for residents who aren’t earning software engineer salaries. In the Seattle area, Microsoft is planning to do something about it and will announce details of a new initiative on Thursday. Two of Microsoft’s top executives—CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith—hinted at the plans in a meeting with editors on Monday on its campus in Redmond, Wash. That same day the company sent out invitations for the Thursday event, which will also feature Seattle’s mayor and the executive of King County, in which Seattle and Redmond are based.
While both executives were cagey about details ahead of the event, Mr. Nadella implied Microsoft would make a significant financial commitment to affordable housing in the region, saying “We’re going to invest quite a bit, but with lots of partners.” Mr. Smith said the tech industries in Seattle and San Francisco Bay Area have contributed to explosive economic growth, which have forced teachers, police officers and others to spend more and more time commuting to their jobs from distant, more affordable areas.
Economists tend to put more of the blame for skyrocketing housing prices on restrictive zoning policies that limit housing supplies than on tech companies. Still, cities are increasingly looking to tech companies for help with their housing crises and some of the industry’s leaders are cooperating. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff vocally supported Proposition C, a San Francisco homelessness tax that voters approved in November. Seattle’s city council, meanwhile, overturned a new per employee tax last year that would have funded affordable housing and homeless services, after opposition from Amazon and others. Microsoft, which didn’t take a public position on that tax, now appears to be positioning itself as the local good guy.