In about a week, Microsoft will begin accepting applications for its pioneering $500 million affordable housing fund.
Microsoft Philanthropies Director Jane Broom announced the company’s criteria for affordable housing projects Wednesday morning at an event in Bellevue, Wash., near the software giant’s headquarters. Her comments provide the first insights into the types of projects Microsoft hopes to support with its new housing initiative.
“Our biggest goal will be, can we create replicable products that other investors can use? They can make a little bit of money, we can get the markets to work a little better — that is ultimately what our goal is with this portfolio,” Broom said.
The company will consider responses to a request for proposals process that meet the following standards:
- At least 40 percent of units will be designated for middle-income families or 80 percent of units targeting low-income families
- Projects must be within a 60-minute commute of Bellevue during peak traffic hours
- Developers must commit to keeping units affordable for a minimum of 10 years
- Each project must have at least 100 units
Broom said other considerations will include innovation, diversity, and services for residents.
“Some of the great new housing projects we’ve seen in the region have daycare centers on the ground level,” she said. “They have healthcare facilities. They have opportunity centers. They have all kinds of things like that that really make strong communities.”
Broom spoke with former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, who now serves as CEO of Challenge Seattle, a group representing the CEOs of Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Madrona Venture Group, Zillow, and other companies in the area. In January, Challenge Seattle released a landmark report on the dire state of middle-income housing in the Seattle region.
“There is a cascading effect when your middle-income can’t afford to live in a community,” Gregoire said. “There is a direct correlation with low-income and ultimately homelessness. Socioeconomic diversity is good for the vibrancy of a city and without it, we cannot be a livable community.”
Gregoire and Broom were joined by Boston Consulting Group Partner Charlie Davis on a panel discussion hosted by the Downtown Bellevue Association.
They met to discuss Microsoft’s new affordable housing fund, which the company announced in January. A total of $500 million will go toward a variety of projects designed to slow the displacement of middle- and low-income residents in the Seattle and Bellevue region.
During the event Wednesday, Broom offered a glimpse into Microsoft’s rationale for creating the initiative. It started when Microsoft President Brad Smith had breakfast with the Redmond police chief and learned that the majority of the force couldn’t afford to live in the community they policed.
“That just dumbfounded Brad,” Broom said. “He couldn’t believe that, and then started asking more questions.”
The affordability crisis was also affecting Microsoft internally as the company sought to recruit and retain talent, Broom said.
Finally, there was the head tax. Last summer in nearby Seattle, the City Council got into an ugly battle with the business community over a per-employee tax that would’ve raised money for affordable housing and homeless services. The tax passed but the Council voted to reverse it less than a month later amid opposition from Amazon and other companies.
“We were over here in Redmond so we were watching from afar. But in all seriousness, listening to the debates, listening to the issues, the sense of urgency from the community really came out last summer,” Broom said. She added later, “We can’t just fight, we need to think about what we can do to help improve this.”
Editor’s note: A photo caption in this story was updated to note Gregoire opened the event at the Downtown Bellevue Association.