Company Housing: Perk or Gilded Cage?

Back in the 19th century, some of America’s pioneering super-capitalists decided to build whole towns to house their workers. George Pullman, for example, built an eponymous village for the employees who built his railcars; anyone living in those small houses needed to conform to bylaws and pay rent, even when the company wasn’t doing well.

While the formal concept of “company towns” gradually faded away in the United States—it’s far more difficult these days for one entity to buy up all the land and infrastructure in a particular area—some tech giants have taken steps in recent years to create a similar, all-encompassing living experience for employees.

The most recent firm to do so is Facebook, which is building several hundred units of housing near its headquarters in Menlo Park, California. As described by Wired, that’s not a lot for a company with several thousand people, in a town with tens of thousands of people; but it could represent a harbinger for how a certain percentage of tech pros will live and work in coming years.

(Facebook is also moving into a new headquarters, which, as seen in the photo above, features a nine-acre park on the roof.)

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While Google hasn’t begun building worker-only housing in nearby Mountain View, the search-engine giant’s growing footprint nonetheless concerns some members of the surrounding community. By this point, Google has seized a significant percentage of Mountain View’s commercial real estate; its self-driving cars patrol its roads; its employees have snatched up a healthy amount of the local housing; and the company has even taken over a chunk of nearby Moffett Field. Given that spread, can formal company housing be far behind?

The danger for tech pros, of course, is that living in worker housing tends to make you beholden to the company for virtually every aspect of your life. But for those who only want to sit in front of a screen and grind out code for a hundred hours a week, a company-provided life could prove just the thing.

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Image: Facebook

3 Responses to “Company Housing: Perk or Gilded Cage?”

  1. It is easy to look at the old Railroad/Coal Mining/…. towns and see how WRONG they were, but in today’s world the company to look at is Disney. They are doing some things right and doing some things wrong. It is easy for me to see the downside because it has been in the news. But let’s look at the good side, with housing prices growing out of control in some areas of the country, if the company owns an apartment complex they can rent it to employees at 70% of the local rate. This helps their bottom line and helps the employee.

  2. emilov

    Darian, from “how WRONG they were” you proved that it’s a great solution in places “with housing prices growing out of control”.
    H1 holders would love it, there’s no point to start a discussion.