Technology industry workers are not apathetic. The industry is known for its passionate defense of civil liberties, growing movements in education and immigration reform and the unprecedented scope of the philanthropy of its most successful members. (It's not just Bill Gates, either. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Ebay's Pierre Omidyar and Google's Sergey Brin were all among the top 10 philanthropists in the U.S. last year.)
Working in such a transformative industry naturally leads people to think and care deeply about societal issues, but I suspect most tech workers have hardly given a moment’s thought to housing issues. That needs to change.
The history of the technology industry was mostly written in the suburbs, whether in Silicon Valley or Redmond, but today tech companies and tech workers are increasingly choosing to locate in city centers. In San Francisco, the arrival of Twitter has brought an influx of tech companies downtown, while here in Seattle, Amazon has completely transformed South Lake Union.
Given the large and ever-accelerating size of the tech sector, these companies and their employees are increasingly shaping the character and policies of cities. That gives the tech industry a responsibility for engaging constructively on housing issues, which are central to city life.
For a sense of urgency, look to San Francisco, which has become the obvious example of what happens when a tech boom combines with failed housing policy. New residents have been flooding the city during the latest tech bubble, while construction of new housing continues its decades-long stagnation. (See Gabriel Metcalf’s piece in The Atlantic Cities for a great summary.)
Predictably, already high rents have skyrocketed. Rightly or wrongly, tech workers have been cast as the villain in all this. Protests against evictions, rising rents and gentrification have become so frequent that they’re making national news. The improbable lightning rod for these protests has been the company buses that ferry tech workers each day to campuses south of the city.