Facebook puts a price on suburban living for employees

Thu Dec 17, 2015 3:09pm EST
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By Olivia Oran and Sarah McBride

NEW YORK/EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Facebook Inc is offering employees at its Silicon Valley headquarters at least $10,000 to move closer to the office, a reflection of the challenges many tech companies face in the increasingly expensive and congested San Francisco Bay area.

To qualify for the payment, which the social networking firm started offering in the last 12 months, according to current and former Facebook workers, employees must buy or rent a home within 10 miles (16 km) of the Facebook campus at One Hacker Way, a desolate strip of road overlooking a marsh about 30 miles (48 km) south of San Francisco.

Some Facebook employees with families to support could earn a one-off payment of $15,000 or more for housing costs.

Facebook's efforts, along with similar programs at some other technology companies including investment management technology company Addepar, data company Palantir and software firm SalesforceIQ, a unit of Salesforce.com Inc, could help ease a major source of tension in San Francisco: an influx of young, wealthy tech workers who commute to Silicon Valley on private buses and often displace lower-income residents.

But Silicon Valley has a housing affordability crisis of its own, and if Facebook's program gains traction it could further accelerate the gentrification of nearby communities, especially the low-income city of East Palo Alto.

"A lot of local families are going to get hurt," said John Liotti, chief executive officer of East Palo Alto community advocacy group Able Works.

Facebook says the program is not about social engineering. "Our benefits at Facebook are designed to support our employees and the people who matter most to them at all stages of life," a Facebook spokesman said.

Cynics suggest the company might be looking to encourage people to spend more time in the office while also cutting the cost of its luxury bus service, whose drivers recently unionized.   Continued...

A "Welcome to East Palo Alto" sign is seen on University Ave in East Palo Alto, California December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam