A Modest Housing Proposal

September 19, 2000

I've been thinking about the next logical step in Silicon Valley human resource management. Already there are campuses where you never have to leave for (almost) all of your personal needs: the dry-cleaner will pick up and deliver; cafeterias, webvan.com and take-out-taxi/ meals on wheels keep you fed; health clubs, masseuse and the roving chiropractor keep your body functional; showers and locker rooms keep personal hygiene up to acceptable standards. So what's next in this reinvention of the company town?

I'll bet you're going to say housing.

I think that the Tokyo style capsule hotels could make it really big in the high rent, always looking for young meat, market of Silicon Valley. Cisco should really look into this. For those of you who have never heard of these things, imagine a box open on one end just big enough for you to sleep in. They have just a few amenities like TV, alarm clock, maybe a telephone. Pure function in the minimum amount of volume.

Think about it: rents around here are ridiculous, $1,200 for a 1BR postage stamp. A recent study showed that new housing construction permits are down from last year and that there is one new residence built for ever 3.something jobs created. Kids fresh out of college are getting paid really big bucks just so they can afford the cost of living here. Of course, once the company IPOs, 1 in 10 like to buy the $1million spread. Even so, you're pretty lucky if you don't have an hour commute. In this era of trying to crank ever more hours out of a person, personal "life" be damned, this is the holy grail. Just add one of these 1,000 unit homages to mass production to your corporate campus, charge a nominal rent and get access to your "resource" 24x7. Offer some nice "dormitory" like features, so the kids will feel like they never left college - why else call the place a "campus" - such as communal kitchens and TV lounges, add some upscale additions like maid service and maybe a bar and they will never have to leave! Since the companies can charge rent, the place even pays for itself after, okay let's be generous, ten years. It's not even a cost center!

I'm not even sure this is a bad thing. Getting highly paid, yet single, and unattached people out of dwellings that could easily accommodate a large extended family of minimum-wage recent immigrants would alleviate the shortage of housing for those underpaid unskilled workers needed to keep all of the beemers, boxters and roadsters shiny, not to mention the lattes hot and bathrooms clean. The major problem in the Valley won't be a housing shortage for the highly paid nerd who can afford to win a bidding war against someone making minimum wage at McDonald's; It will be the shortage of low cost labor that keeps the physical infrastructure from crumbling down around us.

The next question will be: How many OC-3's will you need to satisfy the Internet jones of a thousand lonely engineers?

A Modest Housing Proposal - September 19, 2000 - Ken Mayer