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Microsoft pledges US$500m to ease Washington State's housing crunch

San Francisco

MICROSOFT has pledged US$500 million for loans and grants aimed at ramping up construction of affordable housing in the Puget Sound area of Washington State where the US technology giant has its home. "In recent years, our region hasn't built enough housing for the people who live here," Microsoft executives Amy Hood and Brad Smith said in a blog post.

"We are committing US$500 million as a company to advance affordable housing solutions."

Microsoft was only a few years old when it moved from New Mexico to the Seattle area city of Bellevue in 1979, and now has its headquarters in nearby Redmond.

Since 2011, job growth in the region has been 21 per cent while housing construction growth has trailed at 13 per cent.

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A gap in available housing has caused housing prices to nearly double in the past eight years, making the greater Seattle area the sixth most expensive region in the US, according to Ms Hood and Mr Smith.

"The gap between job growth and housing growth has been even greater in the suburban cities around Seattle than in Seattle itself," the blog post said. "This is a big problem. And it's a problem that is continuing to get worse."

The US$500 million will be used to "help kick-start new solutions" to the housing crisis, according to the executives.

Microsoft planned to make US$225 million available at below-market rates to subsidise preservation and construction of middle-income housing, initially targeting six cities east of Seattle and Lake Washington.

"Median income in the region hasn't kept pace with rising housing costs, increasingly making it impossible for lower- and middle-income workers to afford to live close to where they work," Ms Hood and Mr Smith said.

"Teachers, nurses, first responders and many in key roles at non-profits, businesses and tech companies now begin and end their workdays with long commutes."

A total of US$250 million will be made available at market rates for low-income housing development, while US$25 million will be devoted to philanthropic grants aimed at addressing homelessness, according to Microsoft.

"With these and similar investments, it's possible to lend money, accelerate progress, be repaid and then lend this money again," the two executives said.

"Our goal is to move as quickly as possible with targeted investments that will have an outsized impact." Microsoft is one of Washington State's largest employers. AFP

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