Google puts up $1 billion to ease housing headaches it helped cause

In this May 1, 2019, file photo, a woman walks past a Google sign in San Francisco. Google is making a $1 billion commitment to address the soaring price of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area, a problem that the internet company and its Silicon Valley peers helped create as the technology industry hired tens of thousands of high-paid workers. (AP)
Updated 19 June 2019

Google puts up $1 billion to ease housing headaches it helped cause

  • A report by Working Partnerships called upon Google to build more than 17,000 homes in the area to help offset the anticipated price increases caused by the new campus

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is pouring $1 billion into easing the high-priced housing headaches that it and its Silicon Valley peers helped give the San Francisco Bay Area.
The pledge announced Tuesday by Google CEO Sundar Pichai consists of a $250 million investment fund and $750 million of company-owned land. It will be used to build at least 15,000 homes that will include low- and mid-income housing.
Google’s commitment eclipsed a recent $500 million pledge made by Microsoft to combat housing shortages in the Seattle area and a $500 million housing fund created by a consortium including Facebook.
Google is extending a helping hand as it draws up plans to expand into sprawling offices beyond its headquarters in Mountain View, California. That suburban city of roughly 80,000 people has been swamped with affluent tech workers since Google moved there shortly after its 1998 inception.
Since then, Google’s payroll has swelled from a few dozen workers to the more than 103,000 people now working for it and its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc. Nearly half of those workers are based in the Bay Area.
While Google has been expanding, so have a wide variety of other technology companies, including Apple, Facebook, Oracle, Salesforce and Netflix — all of whom also lavish their workers with six-figure salaries and stock options that can yield multimillion-dollar windfalls.
The high incomes have resulted in bidding wars for the limited supply of homes in the Bay Area that can only be afforded by the affluent, a group increasingly dominated by tech workers, while people employed in other lines of work struggle to make ends meet on more modest incomes.
That is making it impossible for people on the lower end of the economic spectrum to buy a home in the Bay Area, where a mid-priced house sold for $990,000 in April, according to the California Association of Realtors, a trade group. In 1999, a mid-priced home sold for $308,000.
It’s even worse in San Francisco, a city from which many tech workers ride company buses to the Silicon Valley suburbs. A mid-priced house in San Francisco sold for nearly $1.7 million in April, according to the realtors’ group, quadruple the price of 20 years ago.
Google’s next big project will be in the Bay Area’s most populous city, San Jose, where it plans to build a corporate campus consisting of offices and housing where 15,000 to 20,000 of its employees will work and live.
The project faced resistance from community activists worried about its effect on housing prices. Last week, a report by Working Partnerships called upon Google to build more than 17,000 homes in the area to help offset the anticipated price increases caused by the new campus. The report by the labor-union backed labor group envisions apartment rent increases of $235 million by 2030 if action isn’t taken.
“For several months, we have encouraged Google to make a bold commitment to address our region’s affordable housing challenge,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement applauding the company’s $1 billion pledge.


Peanut traders baffled by Sudan export ban on key cash crop

Updated 2 min 13 sec ago

Peanut traders baffled by Sudan export ban on key cash crop

  • The country is the 5th largest peanut producer, with 14% of world production

KHARTOUM: Sudan has been a top producer of peanuts for so long that the nutritious variety is called the “Sudani” — but a government export ban has left traders reeling.

Rimaz Ahmed, commercial director of Abnaa Sayed Elobeid, one of Sudan’s major agricultural export companies, was stunned by the sudden decision of the Trade Ministry to ban the export of raw peanuts.

The government says it wants Sudan to process the nuts inside the country to earn more money.

But traders said they were not given time to prepare.

“It’s a shock because we were not warned,” Ahmed said, of the April 1 restrictions. “Overnight, we lost important markets. Immediately, India replaced us.”

The two main customers for Sudan’s peanuts were China and Indonesia.

On the wall of Ahmed’s office, a poster in English praising the crops — “Peanuts: A Culture with the Flavours of Sudan” — seems to be from another time.

The export ban was a shock for many in the African nation, which, according to the UN, is the fifth largest peanut producer, with 14 percent of world production.

Protein-rich peanuts, which are also called groundnuts, provide rural employment and much needed foreign exchange.

Before the trade ban, peanuts were Sudan’s fifth biggest international earner after gold, sesame, oil and livestock.

The decision comes at a tough time for the country.

Sudan has endured years of international isolation and sanctions, and is now emerging from decades of dictatorship.

Longtime strongman Omar Bashir was toppled last year after months of mass demonstrations.

For Sudan, peanuts are a flagship product, like another of its major exports, gum arabic.

“It is as if France banned the export of wine overnight, or if Italy stopped selling its spaghetti abroad,” Ahmed said.

Income from the crop was rising.

Sudan produced 1.5 million tons in 2019, worth 205 million dollars, according to central bank figures, up from 59 million dollars earned in 2018.

Trade Minister Madani Abbas Madani defended halting exports “to maximize the market value of peanuts and the added value of Sudanese products, in light of climate change which affects the quality” of the product.

For the government, the hope is that Sudan can earn more money through selling products from processed peanuts — such as oil or butter.

Peanuts can also be used in industrial products, including cosmetics.

Critics of the ban on exporting unprocessed nuts have questioned why it was introduced so abruptly, suggesting that it might be a personal whim of the trade minister.

But the minister has insisted his decision was “within the framework of government policy.”

He has yet to convince traders, however.

“We agree in principle it may be good for the country, but we are not at all prepared,” Ahmed said.

“We have neither the machines nor the know-how. It will take time — and in the meantime we have lost our big customers.”

For Sudan, a predominantly agricultural country, the ban could have a major impact on rural employment.

The news has not yet reached some farmers.

In Ardashiva, a village 70 km south of the capital Khartoum, Khair Daoud, 31, digs around his peanut plants.

This year, he has planted over 12 acres of peanuts, saying that if prices rise as they have done in recent years, he would nearly double his production next season.

“If not, I will rely on okra, cotton or sorghum,” the farmer said, dressed in traditional flowing white robes, with a neat skullcap of the same color.

“I haven’t heard anything about exporting. I don’t know if my buyers are selling my produce locally, or for export.”

Peanuts are well suited to Sudan’s climate, growing both under irrigation in the center and east, or from rainwater in war-torn Darfur in the west, or Kordofan in the south.

At the chamber of commerce in Khartoum, businessman Izzeldin Malik said the government’s ban was self-defeating.

“With this decision, Sudan shot itself in the foot,” said Malik, owner of the Rubicon peanut export company.

“While the deficit in Sudan’s trade balance should be reduced, the minister made a decision to increase it.”