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Analysis: King County Council member talks Microsoft's affordable housing pledge

Microsoft President Brad Smith speaks Thursday during a news conference in Bellevue to announce a $500 million pledge by Microsoft to develop affordable housing for low- and middle-income workers in response to the Seattle's housing crisis.
Ted S. Warren
/
The Associated Press
Microsoft President Brad Smith speaks Thursday during a news conference in Bellevue to announce a $500 million pledge by Microsoft to develop affordable housing for low- and middle-income workers in response to the Seattle's housing crisis.

Microsoft has pledged to contribute $500 million for affordable housing efforts in Seattle and the Eastside. King County Council member Claudia Balducci says this is a significant down payment on addressing the housing crisis. She talked with All Things Considered host Ed Ronco about the announcement.

“This was a really great surprise,” said Balducci, who represents the district that includes the technology company’s Redmond campus. She also chairs the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force that just wrapped up its work.

“Our task force found that there is a gap in housing, if you consider the growth through 2040, of almost 250,000 housing units,” Balducci stressed. “Microsoft’s study shows that the gap is 300,000 units. So this is a tremendous investment. It is just a really impressive number. But it’s just a down payment. There’s a lot more we need to do to make sure we have a healthy housing market.”

Balducci says the investment doesn’t stop with Microsoft and other big companies looking to invest in important social issues across the Puget Sound region. It’s up to government agencies to run with the momentum and truly adopt a regional mindset.

“It shows leadership,” she said of Microsoft’s commitment. “It hopefully sparks work by government and other companies to really focus on making sure that we catch up on housing.”

Balducci added that the figure is so large that “it will, in and of itself, make enough of a difference that you’ll feel it.”

Microsoft’s pledge comes on the heels of a controversial head-tax proposal, which was initially approved by the Seattle City Council in May 2018 only to be repealed shortly thereafter. 

“What I would love to see is some healthy competition,” Balducci said. “If companies want to get into competing with each other to do bigger and better things for the community, I’m all in favor of that.” 

Balducci says the issues related to housing are extensive. At the center of it all: job growth that far outpaces the growth of housing.

“What we find is that people are having to move frequently as rents rise, and this is true everywhere,” she said, noting the impacts stretch down into the South Sound. She added that the region needs workforce housing for people who are making working wages, starter housing for new homebuyers, and options for seniors in retirement living on fixed incomes.

“The need is broad and wide, and that’s without even talking about homelessness,” Balducci said.

And of course, whether it’s $500 million or some other level of investment, anything helps: “You almost can’t do anything wrong here.”

Listen to the full conversation above.

Ed Ronco came to KNKX in October 2013 as producer and reporter for KNKX’s Morning Edition. Ed started in public radio in 2009 at KCAW in Sitka, Alaska, where he covered everything from city government, to education, crime, science, the arts and more. Prior to public radio, Ed worked in newspapers, including four years at the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, where he covered business, then politics and government.
Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.