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caption: Homes in Queen Anne are shown from the Space Needle on Monday, November 6, 2017, in Seattle.
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Homes in Queen Anne are shown from the Space Needle on Monday, November 6, 2017, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Microsoft puts $500M toward housing crisis; says tech partly to blame for homelessness

President Brad Smith connected the tech boom with homelessness and lack of affordable housing.

Microsoft is putting half a billion dollars toward affordable housing efforts in the Seattle area, the tech giant announced on Wednesday night.

“The housing situation in the Puget Sound region has reached a point where it's appropriate to use the word 'crisis,'” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft.

Read Brad Smith's comments.

"The lack of available housing is forcing many people – the schoolteachers, the nurses, the first responders, many others who work at companies — to endure longer and longer commutes," he said. "We have even far worse problems for people who are homeless.

Housing in Seattle and surrounding cities has nearly doubled in this latest tech boom, which helped bring roughly 300,000 more people to the region. Bidding wars on modest houses became legend, with real estate agents telling of 37 offers on a single house in Ballard.

As housing prices rose, so too did rents, and Seattleites told of being forced to move outside the city -- and in some cases onto the streets. In an interview with KUOW, a teenager who goes by Millionaire Lavish said he was homeless “because they raised the rent.”

“We didn’t get kicked out, but we decided to leave because we knew we weren’t going to pay the rent. I didn’t want to see that three-day notice on the door,” he said.

“Amazon, you know, these companies are causing more homelessness,” he said.

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, independent of Amazon, committed $1 billion to homeless services last year.

Microsoft said the $500 million would go to “existing affordable housing,” and to “spur construction of new units, and partner with nonprofits to address the affordable housing crisis in the Puget Sound region.”

Microsoft started looking into Seattle housing over the summer, according to The New York Times.

"We put a team of data scientists to work. We partnered with Zillow," Smith said.

The research started after an ugly battle was being waged over the head tax. That was when the Seattle City Council threatened to tax corporations. Their focus was on Amazon, which is based in the city.

“Amazon has done a lot of good for our community, but I also believe they’ve benefited immensely from our community,” said Mike O’Brien, the city council member representing the Ballard neighborhood and its surroundings. “That prosperity needs to be shared.”

Ultimately, the head tax didn’t go through, because all but two council members backed down.

On a web page announcing this donation, Microsoft Philanthropies said cash awards would be granted through an invitation-only process: “For inquiries, contact, and note that we will not be able to reply to every inquiry received.”