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(TNS)—Amid the California rumble of bulldozers and buzz of traffic, a 394-unit apartment complex partly funded by Facebook is taking form here, with perks such as a bike repair shop, pet spa and sports pub designed to attract tech workers.

Called Anton Menlo, it may be only the start of a bold and innovative effort by Facebook to bolster the housing market surrounding its Menlo Park home.

As Facebook hires more employees, purchases more land and expands its college-inspired campus, the social network has floated the idea of creating thousands of new housing units for its workers and the public, city documents show.

“Housing not only would allow for our employees to live near the campus, but would also reduce traffic, increase the overall supply of housing in Menlo Park, and present an opportunity to deliver below-market-rate units,” wrote Fergus O’Shea, Facebook’s director of campus facilities, in an email to city officials in mid-February.

An estimated 4,600 employees work in Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, a number that’s expected to grow in the next year as the company just opened a new Frank Gehry-designed building that can hold up to 2,800 workers. But housing nearby is scarce and breathtakingly expensive, and Facebook’s expansion raises questions about where its employees will live, and what will happen to other area residents when this explosive job growth drives the costs of homes and apartments even higher.

For Menlo Park, a city of about 33,000 people, the challenges echo what’s being experienced in Mountain View, Cupertino and San Francisco—all of which have their own fast-growing tech companies. Slowly, some of those companies are exploring how to help solve the problems their expansion is creating.

“I do think that tech companies that are located along suburban corridors or in traditional science parks now need to think very clearly about housing for their workers,” says Bruce Katz, founding director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “Not just building new subdivisions, but literally building urban enclaves that have what many tech workers and talented workers want.”

Other Silicon Valley tech firms are looking at the same approach.

Google partly funded the Franklin Street Family Apartments, creating 51 affordable housing units near its Mountain View campus in 2013. The company also left nearby land—where housing isn’t currently allowed—undeveloped for that purpose, and plans to build at least 150 housing units if the city grants it a certain amount of space for its futuristic headquarters.

Facebook’s idea—far from a formal proposal—would require a lengthy and complicated rezoning process that hasn’t even begun. But it’s already getting a thumbs-up from some Menlo Park officials.

But some local residents, unconvinced that Facebook’s young employees will give up going to San Francisco’s vibrant night life, fear that creating more housing on or near the company’s headquarters could make evening traffic worse and that new housing would be too expensive for non-tech workers to afford.

“Right now, the traffic settles down after 7 p.m. I foresee that there will be traffic consistently until 10 p.m.,” Victoria Robledo says after a community workshop in March.

It wouldn’t be the first time Facebook has stepped up to help create more housing in Menlo Park.

In 2013, Facebook partnered with St. Anton Partners to create the $120 million Anton Menlo apartment complex. The social network owed the city a $4.5 million fee for affordable housing after it created thousands of square feet of new office space. Instead of paying the city directly, it funded 15 below-market-rate units in the apartment complex, guaranteeing the construction of affordable housing.

“We approached (Facebook) and worked hand in hand for a couple of months on the design, amenities, features and walkability of the project,” says Peter Geremia, co-founder of St. Anton Partners.

Rental prices for Anton Menlo, which is scheduled to open in 2016, have not been set. But in 2014, the average rent in Menlo Park for a one-bedroom/one-bathroom unit was $2,594, data from Real Facts show. The median cost of a single-family home has shot up nearly 19 percent in the last year, to $1.7 million, according to CoreLogic DataQuick.

Finding cheaper housing has been a problem for Linda Amos, who used to commute from Menlo Park to her job in San Jose.

After seeing studios in Menlo Park listed for $1,500 a month, she and her husband decided to move to Modesto to search for cheaper rent and other jobs.

“I would love to be able to find a home here. This is where I grew up,” says Amos, 47, who was sweeping outside her mother’s home in Menlo Park last week.

If Facebook’s housing idea comes to fruition, she might get her wish.

©2015 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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