SEATTLE — Microsoft will invest $500 million to build affordable housing in the Seattle region, company officials said, in what would be the most ambitious effort by a tech company to directly address the inequality that has spread in areas where the industry is concentrated.
The debate about the rapid growth of the tech industry and the inequality that often follows has spilled across the country. King County, which includes Seattle and Microsoft’s home campus in the suburb of Redmond, has boomed along with its tech giants, but its housing supply has not kept up, causing housing costs to soar.
Earlier this week, at a meeting with editors at the company’s headquarters, Satya Nadella, the chief executive, and Brad Smith, its president, said that the housing initiative came out of concern about skyrocketing real estate prices for Microsoft workers and far beyond.
“We are going to invest quite a bit,” Mr. Nadella said at the meeting. “Of course, we have lots of software engineers, but the reality is that a lot of people work for Microsoft. Cafeteria workers, shuttle drivers.”
“We have a real challenge. We don’t have enough affordable housing units.”
A government report in December found that the region needs 156,000 more affordable housing units, and will need 88,000 more by 2040 if the region’s growth continues.
Microsoft’s decision is sure to escalate debate in the industry of companies’ responsibility to help find solutions for those who have not benefited from the industry’s fortunes.
“As a sector, we are starting to step up, but have a lot more room to do so,” Mr. Smith said at the meeting.
While other leading tech businesses have tried to address the housing crisis, many have done so largely by donations to homeless organizations or by building housing for their own employees. Such housing may help with demand, but it has also reinforced the impression that the companies are isolated from their broader communities.