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Apple begins spending $400M out of $2.5B pledge to fight California's housing crisis

There are too few homes and they're all too expensive. Apple says it wants to put a dent in that.

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Apple says it wants to help make California more affordable to live in.

Angela Lang/CNET

Silicon Valley is home to some of the richest and most powerful companies on Earth, including Google, Facebook, Netflix, Uber and Twitter. That wealth has also helped make the San Francisco Bay Area one of the most expensive places to live in the world. 

Apple, the most highly valued US tech company, hopes to help ease the problem by donating to programs that build and help finance affordable homes. On Monday, the company said it's begun spending $400 million out of the $2.5 billion it committed last year.

"At a time when so many members of our community are facing unprecedented challenges, we believe it's critical to make sure that their hopes for the future are supported through tangible programs and results," Kristina Raspe, Apple's vice president for global real estate and facilities, said in a statement.

Apple said it's working with the California Housing Finance Agency, the Housing Trust Silicon Valley and Destination: Home. As a result, Apple said its funding will help build more than 250 units of affordable housing, in addition to offering down payment assistance for needy families.

The iPhone maker's efforts mark the latest in a string of affordable housing efforts from tech giants around the San Francisco Bay Area. Facebook in October committed $1 billion, which in part will help create housing on excess state-owned land as well as build mixed-income units on Facebook-owned land near its headquarters in Menlo Park. Google, likewise, in June 2019 committed $1 billion to help build at least 20,000 homes in the next decade.

Critics say the help is both long overdue and not enough, noting the companies' collective profits are many times these investments. They also blame the companies in part for creating the situation in the first place. The competitive job market for software engineers has driven up salaries, which in turn has helped raise what people are willing to pay for a home. In the area around San Jose, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, Zillow said that even though the market is "cool" right now, the median home value is still $1.25 million, up 3% from the past year. The media rent price is $3,500 in that area as well, far above California's overall median of $2,775, more than twice the median for the rest of the country.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has twice sought the Democratic presidential nomination, criticized the efforts last year, noting that the companies are partly responsible for creating conditions that raised housing prices in the first place.

"We cannot rely on corporate tax evaders to solve California's housing crisis," he said then. The senator's office didn't immediately respond to a request for new comment on Apple's efforts.

Cupertino, California-based Apple has been criticized over the years for its approach to paying taxes. The US Senate investigated Apple in 2013 over $103 billion held in offshore accounts, following a Pulitzer-winning investigation by The New York Times over the company's business practices. In September, the company began a legal battle with the European Union over a $14 billion tax bill from 2016 that Apple says "defies reality and common sense." The company has also defended itself in the past, saying that it's one of the largest taxpayers in the US and that it pays all the taxes it owes.

Apple has promised that as part of its investments it will make $300 million worth of land it owns available for affordable housing.