With San Francisco’s regional government “failing” to invest in transportation infrastructure, leading to housing rents as well as hours-long commutes to spiral out of control, social media giant Facebook has taken it upon itself to build its own social housing project. The project – better known as “Facebook Village” – will be nestled in Menlo Park, about 72 kilometers (45 miles) south of San Francisco, and will provide 1,500 homes for tech-company employees struggling to afford life in Silicon Valley. The project is expected to be ready to receive tenants by 2021.

“Our goal for the Willow Campus is to create an integrated, mixed-use village that will provide much-needed services, housing and transit solutions as well as office space,” says John Tenanes, Facebook’s Vice President for Global Facilities. The social housing project will enjoy 1.75 million square feet (162,580 square meters) of office space and 125,000 square feet (11,612 square meters) of retail space. Facebook has also pumped at least $10,000 in its employee incentives for those who move closer to its offices.

Architectural rendering of Facebook’s proposed Willow Campus is seen in Menlo Park, California, U.S.
Courtesy of Facebook/Handout via REUTERS.

Other tech companies have responded to similar challenges with measures such as equipping buses with internet to help ease the journey on employees with long commutes, although none have gone so far as to build housing for their employees. “Part of our vision is to create a neighbourhood center that provides long-needed community services. The region’s failure to continue to invest in our transportation infrastructure alongside growth has led to congestion and delay,” adds Tenanes.

Since 2010, job creation in the San Francisco Bay Area has spiraled out of control. Although this has been great for the macroeconomy, more than 640,000 new jobs were created while the housing situation couldn’t keep up to provide for this growth and predict the probable surge of residents attracted by new businesses.

It wouldn’t be very accurate to say that Facebook’s initiative will solve the housing problem in the area, partially because the clustering together of companies like Facebook has largely created to the problem – a trend that is not likely to end soon. Just 15% of the houses provided by the social housing project will be offered below market rates. Menlo Park’s average monthly housing rents have more than tripled, reaching $3,349 since 2011 – which is when Facebook announced it would move there. Menlo Park’s rents are some of the highest in the country and considerably higher than in New York City. Meanwhile, housing rents in Silicon Valley have jumped from $535,000 in 2012 to $888,000 last year.