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 PropTech Today: Facebook building homes in California - London next?

Facebook has finally released more details about its previously announced plans to build 1,500 homes, 30 miles south of San Francisco, in the heart of Silicon Valley. 

In fact, it’s even bigger than that. As you can see from these plans, Facebook plans to build an entire mixed-use village where the 1,500 homes will be joined by grocery stores, retail units and a pharmacy. 

Importantly, Facebook will also orchestrate comprehensive transport links in and out of Willow Campus, as the village will be named.

All of these proposals are an attempt to solve the damaging housing and transportation problems in Silicon Valley, problems caused directly by companies like Facebook and Google employing unprecedented numbers of people in a relatively small area of California. 

As the rules of capitalism and supply-and-demand dictate, rent values in the area are now beyond belief, outpricing many of Facebook’s relatively well-paid workers. Facebook is solving a problem that it is responsible for, but only after all other parties have refused to do anything about it, most notably the government. 

This isn’t only a story about Facebook entering the construction and property worlds, it’s also, many would argue, an act of social responsibility, providing affordable homes at a desperate time. But that can be countered with the fact that the people living in Willow Campus will be Facebook employees, not those in California who are most in need. 

A changing mentality

It’s interesting to see that Facebook will be using modular homes to build the village, a construction technique that will help reduce rent prices by reducing building costs. But I think the most important thing to note about this story is the fact that Facebook is essentially saying, ‘if you’re not going to do anything about it, we will’. This isn’t only a case of technology stepping in to solve a problem, it’s a complete change in mentality for big business. 

The boundaries of sector and industry have vanished and the tech giants of this world have bigger bank balances than business has ever seen (Zuckerberg himself is the 5th richest person in the world). Nowadays, if a company like Facebook sees a problem that needs solving, the mentality is one of action, even if it means having to disrupt an entirely foreign industry.

London’s housing crisis

And so, my thoughts turn to the UK, and London in particular. We have a crippling housing problem in the capital, rent values and house prices are catastrophically high. The government is flailing in its attempt to build a solution and private companies are more interested in building high-end, high value properties to attract foreign investment in luxury second homes. 

Yet the city remains a global epicentre of creativity and technology, something which is never going to change. Companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon have no choice but to keep key offices in London, and they are in direct competition with each other to attract the crème de la crème of young talent. 

If the city continues to become more and more unaffordable to live in, attracting major talent is going to become more difficult; offering increasingly higher salaries to counteract London prices is only a finite solution. Rent is rising much faster than income.  

Facebook has shown a willingness to step up and solve housing issues; London’s problems don’t look like they’re going to be solved any time soon. So, who’s to say that Facebook won’t decide to emulate its Silicon Valley village over here? Guaranteeing affordable housing to new employees would certainly be a very attractive pull for any company, so the benefits of the investment are clear. 

Yes, London property and land prices would mean the initial investment would be astronomical, but there are swathes of London that are still yet to be developed. Google has chomped up a generous chunk of King’s Cross, could Facebook go one step further and build an enormous mixed-use complex on one of London’s long forgotten stretches of riverside land?

The UK needs to solve its affordable housing crisis, and even those striving for a solution in PropTech are proving sluggish to provide one. Perhaps it’s time for another act of ultra-diversification from a company with money to burn and the clout to get things done. 

It might be the only way to help make London affordable for the creatives, scientists, nurses and thinkers that, in the wake of Brexit, our country is increasingly desperate to attract.

*James Dearsley is founder of the Digital Marketing Bureau and a PropTech communicator. To sign up to James’ Sunday PropTech Review, click here

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