The Silicon Valley superstars are finally starting to pay attention to the housing affordability problems in their backyard. This year saw a $2.5 Billion investment from Apple, $1 Billion investments from Facebook and Google respectively, and a $500 million investment from Microsoft, all to address one of the biggest issues facing Americans today. The projected impact of this $5 billion pot is 10,000 new homes in California. While 10,000 homes is indeed more than zero homes, this number feels slim when we’re talking about four companies that shook the foundations of their industries with far less than $5 billion. But ushering in an era of dramatic change is hard. Really hard. Especially when it involves convincing millions across the country and billions around the world to get onboard.
That said, this type of thing happens all the time in Silicon Valley, right? Bill Gates, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs have all done it many times over. It seems like they command change on a global scale with every new product and service launch. It might be hard to believe now, but there was a time when there was no unified search engine for the internet, no social network, and no iPhone. Unimaginable just ten years ago, today Google serves 63,000 people per second, Facebook has 2.4 billion monthly active users, and the iPhone has 728 million addicts worldwide (me included).
So why is it that this braintrust thinks investing $5 billion to create a meager 10,000 homes is a satisfactory or remotely interesting way to tackle the housing affordability crisis in California? They couldn’t walk to a meeting in downtown San Francisco without literally seeing the problem right in front of them, so how can these tech giants — in their obsession with the future — really be this blind?
That’s why, as an Apple shareholder, I’ll be writing in Blake Mycoskie for CEO at the next annual election. Blake is the founder of TOMS, which sold over $336 million in goods last year and distributed millions of shoes for free to people in over 70 countries through the company’s One for One program.
TOMS started the One for One campaign by giving away shoes — but, what most people don’t give them credit for is going many steps further. They quickly realized that just giving away shoes wasn’t enough, so they set up infrastructure to produce those shoes in the places that needed them, allowing them to respond to needs faster and make a real, lasting impact in those communities. They went on to start additional programs to provide sight-restoring care for people in thirteen countries, and today, even provide clean drinking water to people in seven countries. And they do all of this without the mega operating budgets of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Imagine what these giants could do with the resources that they have at their disposal.
So where are the dynamic and responsive solutions from these holier than thou companies to solve one of the worst US housing crises of our lifetime? Do they really expect us to embrace a plan for a meager 10,000 homes for $5 billion?
I suspect Blake Mycoskie would join me in laughing at the $5 billion = 10,000 homes announcement. That’s why my challenge for Blake on day one as CEO of Apple would be to assemble a team of the so-called geniuses over there (maybe even just one person who helped launch the iPhone would be enough brain power) to actually invest time, energy, and passion into developing new and radically different solutions to address our housing affordability crisis — the same crisis that these companies helped create over the last 20 years — with some real fervor and enthusiasm. Let’s think big and differently. Experimentation in solving problems is in the DNA of these tech companies. What makes this problem any different? What’s stopping them from investing more heavily in new things like:
Alternative pathways for no/low credit individuals to build financial futures for themselves and their families
New construction techniques built on sustainability and efficiency
Redesigning cities to promote increased access to and from areas with affordable housing
Engaging in deeper collaboration with communities and elected officials to rethink what public-private partnerships should look like
TOMS went past handing out free shoes and actually built the proper infrastructure to make localized, lasting impacts. We should all follow that example for housing affordability. That would be real innovation; the type that we should all aspire to. And it would prove why these “special” companies deserve to be thought of as the great innovators of our time.
The 40 million residents of California deserve more. Americans everywhere deserve more.