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Google Fights Bay Area Housing Prices With Pre-Fab Housing (siliconvalley.com) 304

An anonymous reader quotes the Bay Area Newsgroup: With rental costs skyrocketing and homes out of reach for many, Google has hit on a solution that may help it attract workers to the crushingly expensive Bay Area. The tech giant plans to buy 300 units of modular housing to serve as temporary employee accommodations on its planned "Bay View" campus at NASA's Moffett Field, according to a source familiar with the plan. Experts heralded the move as not only good for Google, but as a potential template for others to follow as the high cost of construction combined with expensive real estate make affordable housing hard to come by... Modular housing has the potential to be "a real game changer" for the Bay Area housing crunch, said Matt Regan, senior vice-president of public policy at the Bay Area Council, a business group of which Google is a member...

The Bay Area boasts many sites suitable for modular rental housing, undeveloped so far largely because the cost of traditional building is too high for the rent the facilities could generate, Regan said. With prefab housing costing up to 50 percent less, "all of a sudden sites like that become economically feasible to develop," Regan said.

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Google Fights Bay Area Housing Prices With Pre-Fab Housing

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  • That makes me MAD! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OYAHHH ( 322809 ) on Sunday June 18, 2017 @09:39PM (#54644679) Homepage

    Moffett Field is government owned property. Google has absolutely no right to it. It is home to a significant population of burrowing owls, which are an endangered species.

    Now these people are gonna turn it into a frigging trailer park for silicon valley trash.

    • by FireballX301 ( 766274 ) on Sunday June 18, 2017 @09:48PM (#54644723) Journal
      Google has the right to it, because the government signed a sixty year lease handing it to them to use as they see fit.

      That being said, it won't be long until you start seeing JP style coffin hotels start springing up. The main problem with bay area housing and the lunacy surrounding it is NIMBYism at its worst - the majority of places will build high density to handle surging populations and rising rents, but the city fragmentation (the 'bay area' is at least 30 mostly independent cities all packed together each with its own muni code and rules and housing authority) means no significant high density housing will ever get approved (tons of projects are shot down because the locals want to 'protect their own property values', which is a codeword for 'we dont want poor people living near our homes').

      So instead we get horrible sprawl, horrible commutes, and the price-out of the support service economy since nobody can afford to be a barista on the peninsula. Google's solution here is to straight up build a company town because mountain view wouldn't let em start building high density apartment blocks
      • by Beau1080p ( 4928265 ) on Sunday June 18, 2017 @10:07PM (#54644809)
        I live in Hayward, just across the bay from Facebook and Google. If I were offered a job at either of them I would consider turning it down solely because of the commute problem in this area. In nominal conditions I can make it to Stanford Hospital in about 43.6 minutes. In commute conditions without access to the commuter lane that can stretch to 2 hours or more.

        Would 300 units even make a dent in the problem? The Google lunch area alone (been there) accommodates several times that number. At best this would be temporary accommodations.

        And the problem with temporary accommodations is that they tend to turn into permanent accommodations. And it is rarely very pretty.
        • by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Sunday June 18, 2017 @11:01PM (#54645001)

          Would 300 units even make a dent in the problem?

          No,

          300 units is like throwing a single drop of water into a lake. And, according to one story I've read, the price Google is paying for this works out to $100,000 per unit. For a bunch of pre-fabricated shit boxes that will look like a slum hotel within a year.

          • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

            Would 300 units even make a dent in the problem?

            No,

            300 units is like throwing a single drop of water into a lake. And, according to one story I've read, the price Google is paying for this works out to $100,000 per unit. For a bunch of pre-fabricated shit boxes that will look like a slum hotel within a year.

            But it could be that drop is the last straw.

            Now, as for pre-fab looking like shit, well, that's merely a matter of the quality of pre-fab chosen. Just remember that something that isn't pre-fab can also just as easily look like shit. There was a modular hi-rise built somewhere where the modules were concrete units that just slipped into a supporting framework, IIRC. The finished product looked better than some of the more classically designed and built hi rises.

            • Seems to me that most rational people would look at this and everything else going on in that part of the country and come to the conclusion that it's time to get the fuck outta there.

              The desire to live in some locale despite the obvious Housing/Transportation/Food(?) costs just so they can say they live there or go jogging by the bay is indicative of some really screwed up priorities, maybe even a mild mental disorder.

              • Or, you know, a shit-load of cash.

                Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook (I think) amongst others are all in and around that area, and they pay very well. Sure, you'll be paying through the nose for a house/flat, but if you see yourself as having a career here, then that house/flat becomes an investment. Property values aren't likely to drop significantly in the next decade or so, in fact they're very likely to increase, so money put in now is likely a good return on investment.

                Work, save, wait, quit, move.

                That sh

        • Yes, they are temporary. It's in TFS. You didn't even have to read TFA.

      • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

        Google has the right to it, because the government signed a sixty year lease handing it to them to use as they see fit.

        So this lease obviated the Endangered Species Act? Google could frack for oil there because fuck you we have a lease?

        I suspect someone is being naive. Not sure if it's you or Google, but this doesn't add up.

        • So this lease obviated the Endangered Species Act? Google could frack for oil there because fuck you we have a lease?

          What causes you to imagine that siting a cluster of temporaries out on the tarmac is going to threaten any endangered species? It's already a big fucking parking lot. The site survey was performed by NASA and they don't seem to have a problem with Google's plan.

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        "Google has the right to it, because the government signed a sixty year lease handing it to them to use as they see fit"

        Contracts cannot violate laws nor negate them. Thus, the Endangered Species Act stands.

      • ...the price-out of the support service economy since nobody can afford to be a barista on the peninsula.

        Shouldn't that part, at least, be self-correcting? If there is demand for coffee then the price should rise until the baristas can be paid enough to afford the rent?

        • In theory, you're correct. And that might explain why there are so many "opportunities" to tip in the Bay Area. Every single food truck, coffee shop, and non-chain fast food restaurant puts tip jars (both real and digital) in your face. I don't blame them, and I usually tip, but it's a manifestation of the wage pressures due to NIMBYism.
      • Not all of those 30 independent cities are wealthy. East Palo Alto is a good example, it is 80% black or Hispanic.

        I have this idea that one of the poorer cities in Silicon Valley should allow anyone to build skyscrapers (or buildings of whatever height they please). And the city would collect real estate tax from the new buildings, with half going to the city, and half distributed as cash payments among the city's current residents (not new residents who move in after the law is passed).

        Alaska, which is oil

        • Well, building skyscrapers in an area that has a very active seismic fault nearby might not be the best of ideas. The cost of earthquake fortifying is neither cheap nor a guarantee. As outlined here [latimes.com], people on upper floors might experience up to 4g of acceleration during a major quake. As the engineer in the article states "Perhaps that's how it works in a real estate deal, but there are some things you can't negotiate. You can't negotiate with God or Isaac Newton."
          • Nowadays we know how to make skyscrapers safe in earthquakes. Skyscrapers continue to be built in San Francisco, Tokyo, and many other earthquake-prone cities.

        • If a city like that gives up half its tax revenues from a major high-rise, how will it pay for schools/police/whatever for half the people in the high rise?

          I've been told that there isn't that much "waste, fraud and abuse" to cut -- that governments are pretty efficient at delivering services. Why should high-rise residents need so much less in civil infrastructure than current residents?

          • Because there are more of them in a smaller area. They aren't going to add roads, or DMVs or what have you, the fire dept don't need to grow at the same rate as the population if they're now in apartments. You'll need a few different trucks maybe and a handful more fire fighters, not one fire station per 100 residents or whatever.
      • the locals want to 'protect their own property values', which is a codeword for 'we dont want poor people living near our homes').

        ]
        Very true. Even at face value, it means "We want the prices of the homes we own to go up, even if that makes it impossible for first-time buyers to buy one." In other words, "Screw you, Jack, we got ours!"

      • The main problem with bay area housing and the lunacy surrounding it is NIMBYism at its worst

        Oh yeah, it's the people who don't want their community to go to shit who are the problem.

        no significant high density housing will ever get approved (tons of projects are shot down because the locals want to 'protect their own property values', which is a codeword for 'we dont want poor people living near our homes').

        People don't want large developments full of poor or not-so-poor people moved into their neighborhood.

        So instead we get horrible sprawl, horrible commutes,

        Adding more population density will only make commutes worse, because there will be more people on the same roads. The answer is not to pack more people into the same location. The answer is to make some other location great, rather than shitting up the Bay Area even worse.

        Mind you, I am pro-gentrification, because it

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday June 18, 2017 @10:21PM (#54644873)

      Moffett Field is government owned property.

      It is federal property, and thus city and county zoning laws can't be enforced, and the NIMBYs and BANANAs can't just stop everything from being built. Google is building there because it is the only place they can build.

      The South Bay is miles and miles of low-rise sprawl, with plenty of room for new housing, new businesses, etc. But it is very difficult to build anything. Liberals hate to hear it, but NIMBYism is a major cause of inequality in America. The lack of growth and sky high prices reduce opportunities for low income people who can't afford to live there, while handing millions to the already well off in the form of artificially inflated property values.

      Thank you Google for these 300 units, but SV really needs 300,000.

      • It is federal property, and thus city and county zoning laws can't be enforced, and the NIMBYs and BANANAs can't just stop everything from being built.

        I can understand the Nimbys, but why would people with Asian ancestry object to stuff being built?

    • Moffett Field is...home to a significant population of burrowing owls, which are an endangered species.

      Before this military airfield was leased to Google, how did your burrowing owls like the 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard, operating the MC-130P Combat Shadow and HH-60G Pave Hawk aircraft?

      • While I do not know the history of the owl species or airfield, it is possible the owl found sanctuary at the closed airfield and thrived after having been displaced by human encroachment elsewhere. We're great at fucking over other species.

    • by jcr ( 53032 )

      Google has absolutely no right to it.

      This turns out not to be the case. They have a contract.

      silicon valley trash.

      Fuck you too, sunshine.

      -jcr

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Sunday June 18, 2017 @09:41PM (#54644695)
    same thing done for mill workers back in the day.
    • by Nethead ( 1563 )

      I owe my soul, to the company store.

    • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Monday June 19, 2017 @12:38AM (#54645275)
      they make enough to afford housing, albeit barely. The trouble is they want services, and that means low paid people. Police, Fire, Emergency responders for a start. Then cooks, laundry, taxis and for some of the better off (who can afford kids) teachers. All of these are at best middle class jobs. Nobody likes paying for them to have nice homes in expensive neighborhoods, but they sure want the services.
      • Police, Fire, Emergency responders for a start.

        Have you actually looked at what those jobs pay in the Bay Area? They are not low-paying jobs, even to start. For example, the current starting salary for a cop in SF is $80k. That's not piles of money, but it's not poor, either.

        • That's actually not very good. Some estimates have median 2-bedroom rent in SF over $50,000 annually. There's a general consensus that you shouldn't spend more than 25%-30% of your income on rent, and on an $80,000 salary that means no more than about $2,000 per month which means a tiny studio apartment in the least expensive parts of town.

          $80,000 may seem like a small fortune, but you seriously need to account for how damned expensive San Francisco is as a city. You're going to be much better off only m
          • $80,000 may seem like a small fortune,

            No, it certainly does not. i've lived in SF. But the days of being able to live in the big city on one person's salary are gone, and they're not going to come back. Nor, indeed, should they. There is only so much San Francisco to go around.

    • Little boxes on the hillside,
      Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
      Little boxes on the hillside,
      Little boxes all the same.
      There's a green one and a pink one
      And a blue one and a yellow one,
      And they're all made out of ticky tacky
      And they all look just the same.

      And the people in the houses
      All went to the university,
      Where they were put in boxes
      And they came out all the same,
      And there's doctors and lawyers,
      And business executives,
      And they're all made out of ticky tacky
      And they all look just the same.

      And they all play

  • by rfengr ( 910026 ) on Sunday June 18, 2017 @09:57PM (#54644757)
    Company housing, company cafeteria; now they just need suicide nets.
    • I doubt Google would do that at a Foxconn level, so there is probably no need for the nets.

      Company Housing and company cafetaria are not problems per se, it's about how you do it. I have never heard of the Foxconn 15 [kottke.org]...

  • Prefab building stuff is often glued together. Mmmmmmm, glue.

    They ought to do a bunch of these eco-fabulous container homes, not just because they're granola-friendly but because they're seismically secure...

  • by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <onyxruby@comRASPcast.net minus berry> on Sunday June 18, 2017 @10:24PM (#54644895)

    This is meaningless dribble. Prefab housing will never be built in numbers large enough to be anything other than green-washing. If Google wanted to do something meaningful about housing prices it would do one of two things:

    Set up shop in a place where housing isn't already undergoing a huge shortage.
    Lobby to remove height based restrictions for housing.

    These are the only two real world options. You have to either change the supply (remove height restrictions) or you have to change the demand (set up shop elsewhere).

    You cannot circumvent the laws of supply and demand. Even though government after government has attempted to do so over the years.

    • Set up shop in a place where housing isn't already undergoing a huge shortage.

      There are very very few places that come close to the concentration of talent available in SV and SF. Most successful tech companies start and grow in the Bay Area. The only other areas that come close are Seattle, NYC, London, etc. which all have similarly tight housing markets. If it was possible to grow a successful tech company in, say, Oklahoma City, then there would some examples of that happening.

      Lobby to remove height based restrictions for housing.

      No way. The people that get to vote on that are the incumbent property owners, and they have zero inte

      • Austin, Texas. It is affordable and has a number of tech industries. The only downside is that it's too damn hot most of the year,
        • Austin, Texas. It is affordable and has a number of tech industries. The only downside is that it's too damn hot most of the year,

          First, that is a major, horrible down side. Living in a state that can kill you if your AC fails is way below ideal. Second, the traffic in Austin is a goddamned nightmare. It was bad when I lived there twenty years ago and by all accounts from the people I know who live there still, it's far, far worse now. If you can't find housing near work, you're fucked.

          • I still live here. Traffic is horrible and as one person put it succinctly, Austin was built for maybe 200K people and it is now around 1 million. I'd also add while not as pricey as the bay area, it is pricey for texas. And because the way the state does education funding, and because austin is pricey, the prop tax equation says we pay for a good chunk of the whole state's education bill, which makes the expensive housing even more expensive. I checked out houston and a place bigger than mine (1.3X) was 1/

            • Too bad they couldn't push some of that stuff out to Waco, huh? It seems conveniently located. Was their government tech-unfriendly, or was it the uh... reputation?

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      Yeah Google, Apple, Facebook and all the other bay area tech companies should just write fat cheques to whichever local governments they need to lobby in order for get the zoning laws changed so high density can be built. Get some property developers (the sort of people who would love to build such high density buildings if it was possible to do so) to throw some money into the pot as well.

    • You cannot circumvent the laws of supply and demand

      Google is opening up three new large office buildings, so they're hitting the demand button a lot harder than they're supplying things.

    • It's not just height restrictions, it's small numbers of well organized locals coming out against any developments that might improve the housing supply. Well intentioned politicians introduced measures to ensure communities had a say in their development, but those processes have been hijacked by groups opposed to everyone from outsiders to the poor.

      What you really need to do is reduce the power of the community veto in circumstances in which a severe housing shortage exists. Legal Shantytowns seems a p

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Set up shop in a place where housing isn't already undergoing a huge shortage.

      The problem with that is that it makes it much harder to employees to switch jobs. If they live near Google but there are few other tech jobs in the area then changing jobs means moving home too. That has a cost attached, it could be problematic for their partner's job, it will disrupt their children's education etc.

      That is why the model was to have suburbs and people commute to their job, giving them a fairly wide radius to look for work in without having to move house. The problem now is that the transpor

      • by kenh ( 9056 )

        The problem with that is that it makes it much harder to employees to switch jobs.

        As an employer, is it my concern that employees can easily switch jobs? Invest in relocation packages, locate in a nice alternative city, and enjoy a locked-in workforce.

    • This is meaningless dribble

      "drivel", though I like your thinking!

  • that one can conveniently sell their soul to? (Johnny Cash's rendition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com])
  • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Sunday June 18, 2017 @10:37PM (#54644933)
    to offer loans to their employees in exchange for equity sharing. Google could under write (or more likely secure funds from other lenders) home loans with the proviso they get some % percentage of the increase in value when the home is sold. They could even reduce the % overtime as an incentive for good employees to stay with them. If an employee leaves, they could freeze the % if the borrower is up to date; or even offer to give up the equity in the event of a layoff as part of a package. In the later case, it could possibly be a tax free way to add to the severance; depending on the tax law and how the deal is structured. Such an approach would let employees get into the market and take advantage of its crazyness while tying employees to Google as well. The Moffat Field homes could serve as transitional places as employees look for a home; or as housing for employees that would prefer to rent. If my company at the time had such a deal I'd still be there and living on the coast side; enjoying the benefits of living in a small town by the ocean with a short commute into the Bay Area and the city. The coat side isn't for everyone but for those of us that liked the environment and loved fog it was great place to live. All the advantages of the city and the valley with none of the BS.
    • to offer loans to their employees in exchange for equity sharing. Google could under write (or more likely secure funds from other lenders) home loans with the proviso they get some % percentage of the increase in value when the home is sold.

      That would make bay area property owners happy, since it would increase the ability of highly-paid Google employees to pay even higher prices, thereby driving property values up more.

      • to offer loans to their employees in exchange for equity sharing. Google could under write (or more likely secure funds from other lenders) home loans with the proviso they get some % percentage of the increase in value when the home is sold.

        That would make bay area property owners happy, since it would increase the ability of highly-paid Google employees to pay even higher prices, thereby driving property values up more.

        Giving the nature of the market such a move might raise prices a bit but given bidding wars already occur I doubt the impact would be vary noticable.

  • Thanks to Prop 13 (circa 1978...), the average permit & planning fee cost to build a single family unit of housing in the Bay Area exceeds $140,000. That's why you see so many crappy houses for sale at absurd prices. "Yeah, it's a wet cardboard box... But it has a valid occupancy permit and .09 acres... So $600k is fair..."

    The cities can't get the property taxes to pay for expanding the sewer & water plants, etc... So they factor those in up front.

    • Two remodels.

      First: replace all but the NE corner.

      Second: replace NE corner.

      Teardowns are a thing of the past.

    • by TheSync ( 5291 )

      Thanks to Prop 13 (circa 1978...), the average permit & planning fee cost to build a single family unit of housing in the Bay Area exceeds $140,000.

      Thanks to NIBMYS, you are unlikely to be able to build anything anywhere in Silicon Valley! (Unless of course you are Google or Apple and basically bribe the city)

  • by JeffOwl ( 2858633 ) on Sunday June 18, 2017 @11:38PM (#54645103)
    Or they could maybe build a facility somewhere else and expand there. Somewhere the engineers AND the janitor can get a place to live within a 30 minute drive. And the people who provide the services that allow a community to exist, like firefighters, teachers, food servers, etc... It doesn't have to be out in the boonies either. It will still need to be an area with a relatively high average education to supply and attract the right talent, so there will still be some affluence, but it isn't difficult to be better from a housing and traffic situation than what they have now. Otherwise this modular housing is just a waste of time and money, they should be building an arcology on their main campus.
  • Imagine (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Monday June 19, 2017 @01:53AM (#54645453) Journal

    Moffet Field is about 2,200 acres, or 3.4 square miles. If it was rebuilt with the population density of the inner core of Shanghai (~120,000 people per square mile), it could house 400,000 people, along with offices, restaurants, etc.

  • Trailer parks are not new in Mountain View. There are several within a few blocks of Google. Trailers can run seven figures... because land.

  • sometimes it just feels we're going backwards in time, factory workers used to get housing provided to them, close to the factory.
    all the shops & bars in the neighbourhood would also be owned by the factory and so people were mostly spending all their money back to the factory.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr@@@mac...com> on Monday June 19, 2017 @06:45AM (#54646121) Journal

    All we need to solve this is a free market for housing, without all these fucking NIMBYs using their local city councils to prevent new construction.

    -jcr

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    Google is a tech company - if affordable housing is a problem, why not let most of the staff telecommute from less expensive areas?

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      if affordable housing is a problem, why not let most of the staff telecommute from less expensive areas?

      Or, you know, relocate to almost any other county in America?

  • Ah, the Foxconn Housing Model [theatlantic.com], with an American twist - how "inventive".

  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@@@poetic...com> on Monday June 19, 2017 @02:30PM (#54649151)

    So you slap a prefab on a small lot. The prefab costs 10K, the value of the lot is 1M. Does that make sense? Maybe the lot is on government land and you seem to be getting it almost free ... it's not free however. It's worth 1,000,000 today and far more tomorrow.

    That land value has to be considered. It is far more important than the box you put on it. The only way to maximize the use of that land is to build up. Skyscrapers. Then you can house 500 people on 10M worth of land.

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