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The Seattle Times reports that Microsoft - which, as it happens, as signed separate deals in the past week to work with Kroger and Walgreens, putting it right in the center of the retail wars - said yesterday that it “is responding to the region’s widening affordability gap with a $500 million pledge to address homelessness and develop affordable housing across the Puget Sound region.”

According to the story, “Most of the money will be aimed at increasing housing options for low- and middle-income workers — workers who ‘teach our kids in schools, and put out the fires in our houses and keep us alive in the hospital,’ said Microsoft President Brad Smith — at a time when they’re being priced out of Seattle and parts of the Eastside, and when the vast majority of new buildings target wealthier renters.”

The story notes that the fund “marks Microsoft’s first significant foray into the politics of housing affordability, where debate over the role of big tech in addressing the widening affordability gap still simmers.”
KC's View:
Let’s be clear. As big an investment as $500 million is, it is just a first step in addressing a serious problem in the Seattle area.

But I want to applaud Microsoft. When I read this story, my mind wandered back to just 10 days ago, when we took note here of a New York Times story about how big box retailers and national chains are using what it termed “an aggressive legal tactic” to reduce their local property tax bills, saying that their stores and properties have been appraised at values that are too high considering the degree to which bricks-and-mortar retailers have suffered at the hands of e-commerce companies.

My reaction to that story was that, while I understand that businesses have a responsibility to their shareholders to minimize their tax exposure, I also think that this approach represents short term thinking that will result in their businesses being undermined because they will hurt the communities in which they operate and the people who both patronize their stores and work there.

I’m not suggesting that Microsoft is being totally altruistic - this is a business calculation aimed at keeping its people happy, made possible because, as the Times writes, it is “blessed with a balance sheet that allows for sweeping gestures.” But it is a move that puts something into an economy, rather than endeavoring to remove it.