Efforts by Apple, Facebook and Google to address the California housing crunch must contend with the forces that created it.

Stories like that hang heavy over Apple’s $2.5 billion plan, announced Monday, to help solve the dire shortage of affordable housing that has come to dominate life and politics in [California]. The pledge came weeks after Facebook announced $1 billion for a similar program, and months after Google did the same. Earlier, in January, Microsoft committed $500 million for affordable housing in the Seattle area.


But don’t expect the money to make much of a difference. A few billion dollars doesn’t buy a lot in California’s punitively expensive housing market. Even if it did, the companies’ announcements were accompanied by crucial yet mostly unanswered questions like where, how and when this money will be spent. And as the Vallco struggle illustrates, the biggest question is the one California has long wrestled with: how to get much-needed housing built when local governments and homeowners do everything they can to prevent it.

“These investments are an opportunity, because clearly the tech companies want to engage and want their money to make a difference,” said Carol Galante, faculty director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley. “And yet, this scattershot approach, not just with each of them putting out their own announcements, but not having them coordinated with the larger conversation about how we are going to make the public policy changes that the Legislature is struggling with — unless you marry those things together, it’s not going to work.”

The housing programs announced by Apple and other companies are not philanthropy, but commitments to make affordable housing investments — for profit — in the form of corporate land and money.