Business In Society
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Business in Society Blog

“Company towns” 2019: Tech giants fund to fix housing crisis “they helped inflame”

“The technology industry’s biggest companies … are deciding that they need to play a role in fixing a housing crisis they helped inflame …”
That’s the lede from the New York Times story yesterday, “Facebook pledges $1 billion to Ease Housing Crisis Inflamed by Big Tech”       
For anyone tracking the evolution of corporate social responsibility, and for business historians generally, that can be a big story. Here’s why, as the Times explained it:
“Taken together, the investment by Facebook and other companies show the degree to which large employers in the Bay Area and other tech centers are having to aid in the basic governance of their regions if they plan to keep expanding – which they absolutely do …
“Long before they became involved in affordable housing Google and Facebook hatched plans to build housing around their campuses.”
The Facebook contribution appears to meet a key demand by critics of corporate social responsibility: It is planned as a strong partnership with the California state government for effective use of the funds. Some $350 million will be spent based on the effectiveness of the programs.  Over the next decade the programs will address mixed-income housing on state-owed land; supportive housing for homeless people in the Bay Area; and land for teacher housing near the company’s Menlo Park headquarters.
Clearly, a community-wide commitment. And one welcomed by community leaders, as noted in the Times report: “Mila Zelka, a founder of Manzanita Works, a non-profit that has worked to build housing for teachers by bridging the public and private sectors: ‘Gifts like this from industry can help fund opportunities so that the fabric of our communities is held together.’ “
And if you are interested in how far we’ve come from the “company towns” of an earlier era of industrial evolution in America, this may well be of interest:
“In the 1890s, in remote locations such as railroad construction sites, lumber camps, turpentine camps, or coal mines, jobs often existed far from established towns. As a pragmatic solution, the employer sometimes developed a company town, where an individual company owned all the buildings and businesses.

In some situations, company towns developed out of a paternalistic effort to create a utopian worker’s village. Churches, schools, libraries, and other amenities were constructed in order to encourage healthy communities and productive workers. Saloons or other places or services believed to be negative influences were prohibited.

In other cases, the company’s motivations were less ideal. The remoteness and lack of transportation prevented workers from leaving for other jobs or to buy from other, independent merchants. In some cases, companies paid employees with a scrip that was only good at company stores. Without external competition, housing costs and groceries in company towns could become exorbitant, and the workers built up large debts that they were required to pay off before leaving. Company towns often housed laborers in fenced-in or guarded areas, with the excuse that they were “protecting” laborers from unscrupulous traveling salesmen. In the South, free laborers and convict laborers were often housed in the same spaces, and suffered equally terrible mistreatment.”

As they say,
Read More  (a lot more) –

  “Company towns: 1880s – 1935”

Societies evolve. Business can – and must – adapt.