Are Big Tech Companies Too Much Of a Burden For The Communities They're in?
Photo Credit: The icomic painted ladies houses with San Francisco downtown skyline in the distance

Are Big Tech Companies Too Much Of a Burden For The Communities They're in?

As tech continues to grow, new cities are playing host to some of the industry’s biggest companies. Although Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area has long been regarded as America’s tech hub, cities like Austin and Atlanta are becoming rising stars. While tech companies often tout the benefits they can bring to a city, the reality is that their presence can often be a burden — and the bigger the company, the more weight a city has to bear. 

In the United States, San Francisco ranks as the country’s second most expensive city to live in. So expensive in fact, that a family earning a six-figure salary would still be considered low-income. The tech industry by itself cannot be completely blamed for San Francisco’s skyrocketing housing costs because there are other factors like housing shortages and wages that refuse to accommodate the new costs of living. However, as companies like Facebook and Google build entire campuses and housing solely for their employees, they exacerbate the problem. 

Professor Karen Chapple who studies governance, planning, and development of U.S. cities and regions at the University of California, Berkeley, says that the Bay Area’s housing crisis is worse than other U.S. Cities.

“We have high tech jobs which generate a lot of service jobs: hair-cutting salons, nail salons and masseuses, yoga studios and dog care. High-end jobs and low-end jobs [are] created at the same time, but you have a housing market that is really only producing for folks at the high end of the scale. There is a mismatch,” Chapple told CNN.

When people can’t afford to live in a city, they get pushed out. There is a Black exodus within San Francisco. In the 1970s, one of seven residents in the city was Black, according to the New York Times. Today, it’s about one of twenty, and most of the city’s Black population lives within low-income housing. 

Tech employees themselves are now starting to feel the hurt of living in a city as expensive as San Francisco. The workplace app Blind polled around 3,600 tech workers and found about 60 percent of workers in top companies cannot afford to live in the Bay Area.

Concerns around housing and gentrification are part of the reasons that communities push back against big tech companies planning to build in their city. Amazon intended to build the second half of its headquarters in Long Island City, a Queens neighborhood in New York, but ended up changing plans after community protests. Part of Amazon’s motivation to move its second headquarters to Long Island City was tax breaks, as outlined by the Ringer. After Amazon announced its initial plans to bring HQ2, housing prices surged within the neighborhood, and more were expected as high-earning tech employees moved to Queens and Brooklyn. 

Within its hometown of Seattle, Amazon already has a sketchy history. The company has drastically increased the amount it spends on lobbying, which means vulnerable communities continue to suffer under its weight. In 2018, Amazon crushed a small tax that would have helped the city’s homeless. The tax would have raised about $50 million each year, according to Vanity Fair. 

While Amazon has since donated $8 million to relief groups in Seattle and Google plans to invest $1 billion over ten years to help the Bay Area’s housing crisis, acts like that should be recognized as companies seeking public approval. There’s no real ownership over what these companies did to wreck cities to start. These acts of charity are rooted in improving each company’s public image. If they weren’t, Amazon and Google would take up lobbying on behalf of the communities that they’ve harmed — including those who are now homeless or otherwise displaced. 

As the tech industry starts to expand into other heavily-Black cities, people need to be aware of a company’s history in its other locations. You can’t begin to combat a problem if you don’t even know all the ways it’s taken shape.