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Chan Zuckerberg-backed fund targets San Francisco housing crisis

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The Partnership for the Bay's Future - which the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is starting in conjunction with the San Francisco Foundation, the Ford Foundation and other groups - will seek to preserve and create affordable housing through a new US$500 million investment fund.

Seattle/San Francisco

THE philanthropy started by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan is backing a fresh effort to address the housing shortage in the San Francisco Bay area, where an explosion of tech wealth has deepened inequality and contributed to an affordability crisis.

The Partnership for the Bay's Future - which the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is starting in conjunction with the San Francisco Foundation, the Ford Foundation and other groups - will seek to preserve and create affordable housing through a new US$500 million investment fund.

It's also targeting a US$40 million fund aimed at government policy changes, according to a statement issued on Thursday. Facebook and Genentech are among the companies making contributions.

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The initiative, while largely driven by philanthropies, is the latest example of how tech companies and their executives are seeking to alleviate a crisis that they're often blamed for exacerbating.

Last week, Microsoft announced its own US$500 million plan to support affordable housing and homeless services in the Seattle area, a region that's also seen skyrocketing housing costs along with swift growth in its tech industry.

The Bay Area, however, has become a national symbol for a housing market that's accessible only to those at the top of the income ladder.

The median house price in San Francisco is now US$1.6 million. And homes are even more expensive in Silicon Valley, where Facebook, Apple and Google parent Alphabet are based.

Teachers, nurses, firefighters and other essential public servants often struggle to find places to live, and even some highly paid tech company workers are getting priced out.

"This is a problem that impacts the greater community," Ms Chan, who started her philanthropic investment company with Mr Zuckerberg in 2015, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Tech companies and their leaders "want to be a part of building the Seattle or the Bay area into this place that people from all different backgrounds can come and be successful".

The Bay Area's crisis stems from explosive economic growth paired with little new construction. The region has added 722,000 jobs since 2010, but only created 106,000 new units of housing, according to a report from the Committee to House the Bay Area, a group promoting a regional plan to address the crisis.

It backers have advocated for producing 35,000 new homes annually and preserving and protecting tens of thousands more.

The Partnership for the Bay's Future will seek to further those efforts, which, along with other policy changes, could add or protect 175,000 homes in the region.

In a sign of how steep the challenge facing the area is, though, the group estimates that its US$500 million investment vehicle, which is expected to be one of the largest housing funds in the country, may add or preserve only around 8,000 homes over the next five to 10 years.

It will do so through a combination of products that aim to plug gaps in financing that have bedeviled affordable-housing developers and operators.

One such offering will be revolving lines of credit to help community development organisations buy land in a competitive and fast-moving property market. Another will seek to give loans to build supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.

The seeds of the partnership began roughly two years ago, when representatives from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the San Francisco Foundation, the Ford Foundation and some corporations began discussing what a solution to the region's housing crisis might look like.

They asked public officials, community groups and religious organisations for input, and eventually pulled in the Local Initiatives Support Corp (LISC), a national housing organisation that will run the US$500 million investment fund.

"When we first started these kinds of conversations, there was a sense that these kinds of issues were somebody else's problem," said Fred Blackwell, chief executive officer of the San Francisco Foundation.

"What's happening is that folks in the corporate sector, and tech sector more specifically, are starting to see this as a business problem. It's creating a situation where it's hard to recruit good workers."

The wide range of players involved means that, unlike Microsoft's announcement last week, money for the effort will be coming in from different quarters, and only about half of it is currently raised.

To kick things off, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is seeding the investment fund with US$40 million and the policy fund with US$10 million.

Facebook is putting US$1 million toward the policy fund. Genentech, located in South San Francisco, will add US$10 million, split between the two vehicles.

Maurice Jones, the president and CEO of LISC, which will run the new investment fund and contribute to it, said the number of different partners is a strength of the initiative. He also applauded the fact that the group will focus on policy as well as financial contributions.

"The bottom line is you really need both efforts if you're going to maximise any investment," he said. BLOOMBERG