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With 15,000 homes in the pipeline, Google and Lendlease want to reinvent Silicon Valley housing

More diverse housing types and prices could transform an area that feels more suburb than city—and attract workers who want to live close to the office but don’t want to live in the suburban sprawl around Google’s HQ.

With 15,000 homes in the pipeline, Google and Lendlease want to reinvent Silicon Valley housing
[Image: courtesy Google/designed by SITELAB Urban Studio]

A huge infusion of housing is coming to one of America’s tightest housing markets. Google, in partnership with global development giant Lendlease, is using land it owns throughout Silicon Valley to develop roughly 15,000 units of affordable, mixed-income, and market-rate housing over the next 15 years.

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In contrast to the mostly sprawling and car-oriented single-family homes that make up much of the housing stock around Google’s headquarters, these new developments, now being master planned by Lendlease, would inject more dense, urban—and if they get it right—diverse residential areas into one of the most expensive markets in the country.

For Google, this housing push comes alongside the company’s ongoing expansion in the region, with new offices being built to keep up with its continued dominance of the tech sector. After years of the tech industry job growth far surpassing housing development in Silicon Valley—think of the shuttle buses driving Facebook workers from their homes in San Francisco to their offices in Menlo Park—it’s become politically prudent to couple office growth with home development.

[Image: courtesy Google/designed by SITELAB Urban Studio]
“We all know this area is critically undersupplied with housing, and housing of all types,” says Claire Johnston, managing director of Google Development Ventures at Lendlease, a title that hints at the scope of Google-related work in the pipeline, even for a multinational developer with projects all over the world. “What we’re seeing is that people want to live in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley but they’ve got supply constraints. So it’s difficult, and as a result it’s expensive.”

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Lendlease is planning to use the scale of its 15,000-unit injection to combat some of the housing challenges that have plagued cities in Silicon Valley as the tech industry has boomed. Through a mix of homes for rent and for sale, with price points across the spectrum, Lendlease is trying to create a counterpoint to the low-rise residential-only neighborhoods that make up the majority of Silicon Valley’s living spaces.

A significant chunk of these new homes, about 7,000, will be part of North Bayshore, a neighborhood in Mountain View also planned by Lendlease. This plan is still in the grinding process of gaining community and city council approvals, but renderings show dense and walkable mixed-use neighborhoods, with pedestrian-oriented shopping districts, bike-lane-sliced park spaces, and condos and apartments built with modular prefabricated construction techniques.

[Image: courtesy Google/designed by SITELAB Urban Studio]
Google is on a bit of an urban development spree in Silicon Valley. On top of North Bayshore and the rest of the 15,000 homes it will develop with Lendlease, Google has also been actively pursuing major redevelopment around the main transit center in downtown San Jose. That project, dubbed Downtown West, aims to build 4,500 units of housing, 7.3 million square feet of commercial buildings, and 15 acres of parks and public spaces. City approvals are already in hand, but the San Jose project has hit some speed bumps, with a pending legal dispute between the tech giant and a few dozen people who have distant claims to tiny slices of land in the development zone.

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The 15,000 units Lendlease is now planning for Google’s land—specific sites still to be announced—will be mixed-use in nature, which Johnston says is much more in line with the historical development patterns of the region, before most development turned into suburban sprawl. “It’s a series of villages,” she says. “And then when you go down into the center of Silicon Valley, you see these big tracts and commercial office buildings that sometimes are a little soulless and really need to be reimagined. So that’s the job that we’re doing now.”

The goal is to create homes “where people can live in an environment where they don’t have to get on the freeway to go and get milk,” she says.

[Image: courtesy Google/designed by SITELAB Urban Studio]
It’s a chance, according to Johnston, to broaden the type of housing that’s available to people in the Valley. “The fact that we have 15,000 units here in the inventory gives us the ability to really plan for what’s the housing choice that needs to be here, both in terms of product and price point,” she says. “That’s mixed income, that’s [people making] 80% of the [area median income], that’s 100% AMI, that’s people who earn millions.”

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Johnston says the plans are taking community input seriously, and evolving along the way. This focus on listening to local desires and concerns is likely a reaction to another major real estate project in the Google sphere that fell apart. Parent company Alphabet and its subsidiary Sidewalk Labs had spent years planning a neighborhood-scale development in Toronto, but questions about privacy and data collection led to vocal opposition that eventually tanked the project.

“No community likes an imposition, and nobody likes being told what to do or how to do things. So the role of a responsible developer who cares about longevity in a community is really to come in and understand the place, understand what exists, understand the people,” Johnston says.

In a region of about 3 million people, 15,000 houses can do only so much. But for tech companies like Google, there’s a growing recognition that attracting and retaining talent requires more than nice offices. Without the kinds of urbane, lively neighborhoods many young tech workers have experienced in other cities, companies may struggle to lure employees to what has historically been their operational center.

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Lendlease’s housing plan is far from a blank-slate project, Johnston says. While there are plenty of ways to improve upon the low-slung and spread out neighborhoods that make up much of Silicon Valley, the new housing being planned won’t turn its back on the past. Johnston says there’s a big appetite among tech companies and city officials to create a more diverse array of housing types and neighborhood developments that can mesh with the existing urban makeup of the area, while also pushing it to offer new lifestyles and experiences.

“There’s this predisposition within the community generally, not just necessarily at Google, to say how can I make a better experience for the humans that come and work [here],” Johnston says. “I don’t think this will be a full revisionist, we need to start over. I think it will be an augmentation of what’s already there.”

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