herald

Saturday 19 October 2019

'It's the right thing to do' - Google prepared to fund new homes to ease crisis

Google’s Sundar Pichai
Google’s Sundar Pichai

Tech giant Google is willing to help fund general housing in Dublin to ease the accommodation crisis, according to its chief executive.

"It's something we would think about doing over time," Sundar Pichai told the Herald.

"It makes sense for us as a company to do it and it's also the right thing to do."

The multinational is currently donating €910m for community housing in San Francisco to ease chronic housing costs there, where highly-paid tech workers have put city living out of the reach of non-tech employees.

Google now employs 8,000 people in Dublin and, with staff salaries averaging close to €100,000, it is looking at ways to invest in the wider community.

"Things like housing are issues we care about. I think we are in the early stages here," said Mr Pichai.

"I think being part of Dublin, for us, means it's important that we get our development right in a way that works for the community."

The tech boom in Dublin has seen companies such as Google and Facebook double their staff count in recent years. The surge in salaries has had a knock-on effect on housing affordability with nurses, teachers, retail workers and others struggling to find city accommodation.

Intervention

However, Mr Pichai said that a sponsored housing intervention would need more than just Google's own input.

"There's got to be support from the Government too, in terms of development and planning matters," he said.

"I think it will be a process of engagement, rather than us just deciding what to do."

Google now dominates part of the South Docklands, owning and developing a number of large buildings in the area.

The company sees its Dublin footprint as more than just a collection of offices and it may add apartments, shops and restaurants.

However, high salaries in city-based tech firms such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and others have seen lower-paid workers miss out on much of the available accommodation.

"We do want to engage with the community and do what is right as a company," added Mr Pichai.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where Google is headquartered, one-bedroom apartments now cost more than €3,000 a month to rent.

Other US tech cities such as Seattle, which is home to Microsoft and Amazon, are seeing similar soaring housing costs.

Mr Pichai says that a commitment to housing is one expression of "good corporate citizenship" in a community.

"If you look at Silicon Valley in the past, specifically companies like Hewlett Packard and its founders, they invested a lot in the communities around them," he said.

"And so I think that's what led to much of the sustainable development back then.

"We've gone through a few years of hyper growth. Maybe that sees things fall behind."

Mr Pichai was speaking in Dublin as the company's philanthropic arm announced a €1m grant for the children's charity Barnardos around the subject of online safety.

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