Billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen, who cofounded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, has committed $30 million to a new initiative that will help establish permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness in Seattle.
The money will go toward building a new facility specifically designed to house the city’s homeless families and children, announced Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Wednesday. In addition to the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s $30 million, the City of Seattle will pledge $5 million to the multi-family complex.
“Paul Allen understands the homelessness crisis requires everyone in our community, particularly our business leaders, to help,” Murray said in a statement.
“This commitment is an example of the incredible difference our philanthropic and business leaders can make in our community, as I called on others to do during my State of the City speech this year,” he added.
National nonprofit Mercy Housing Northwest, which operates 48 affordable housing properties in Washington state, will own the facility and take the lead in developing and operating it. Additional nonprofit partners are expected to join the initiative later, helping to provide crucial social services for the community. The exact location has not yet been determined.
The project’s goal is to help Seattle’s homeless families and children “transition to stable housing and break the cycle of homelessness.” Bill Hilf, CEO of Paul Allen’s company Vulcan Inc., said they approached the City of Seattle several months ago in an effort to “make a significant impact toward disrupting the cycle of homelessness, and to give homeless families an opportunity to thrive.”
“Paul Allen understands the homelessness crisis requires everyone in our community, particularly our business leaders, to help.”
According to government data, 1,694 families are currently waiting for housing in King County, which incorporates Seattle and surrounding areas. Nearly 3,500 students enrolled in Seattle public schools experienced homelessness at some point during last year’s school year.
In 2015, Seattle declared a “state of emergency” over homelessness. Overall, recent estimates show there are approximately 3,000 people without shelter in the city — a number that has steadily increased year after year, putting strains on Seattle’s shelter system. As a result, many makeshift homes (dubbed “tent cities“) have popped up.
Job growth and economic success in Seattle have contributed to the problem, particularly as the city’s tech industry has thrived. The influx of new workers has upped the population and made rent prices soar, pushing out those on the margins.
Like Allen, others in the tech space have tried to curb their industry’s negative impact on Seattle’s homelessness crisis. Last year Amazon, another local tech giant that has undoubtedly contributed to housing shortages in the city, repurposed a building for its downtown campus as temporary housing for the homeless population.
Allen is no stranger to using his fortune for social good. His foundation has funded efforts across various subjects since 1990, and through Vulcan Inc., he’s spearheaded many conservation efforts such as the Global FinPrint initiative and the Great Elephant Census.