2022 Urban Design Thesis Prize: Briana Flynn’s “Big Tech’s Emerging Roles in Local Housing Delivery: Two Case Studies of Corporate Affordable Housing Initiatives”

Infographic showing a comparison between Amazon and Microsoft

by Briana Flynn (MUP ’22) — Recipient of the Urban Design Thesis Prize.

This thesis consists of two case studies examining the development and implementation of Microsoft’s and Amazon’s recent corporate affordable housing initiatives. Between 2018 and 2021, in the wake of mounting public concerns about gentrification in the regions where Big Tech companies are headquartered, and facing the possibility of new local corporate taxes to fund affordable housing, Big Tech companies announced funding for local affordable housing initiatives. The case studies evaluate two of these initiatives’ theories of change, partnership strategies, and decision-making processes.

By assessing both process and outcomes for housing systems, this thesis makes the broader argument that housing advocates, as well as the general public, must remain vigilant about why and how corporate money is being used to address social inequality as it appears in urban housing markets. This is especially vital as voluntary corporate philanthropy emerges as a substitute for regulatory-, tax-, or fee-based approaches to redistributing the benefits of regional economic growth. If we accept that powerful private companies are stepping in to affordable housing funding roles traditionally held by democratically elected governments and mission-based organizations, we must understand how these companies are making funding decisions, where they are putting their capital, and how they are (or are not) working in alignment with local governments.