2019-01-31 —

Billions have been flowing into a corner of the tech industry focused on the housing market. And now there are start-ups to help landlords manage properties, or homeowners manage sales, or tenants manage their packages.

But hardly any of it touches the central problem of housing: For many people, it costs too much.

"None of that investment, nor the solutions that those companies are offering, will fundamentally change the dynamic of the housing market in a way that increases housing affordability," said Matt Hoffman, the vice president for innovation at the national housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, surveying what venture capitalists have come to call "proptech."


"This looking for a tech solution -- I understand why people want it," Ms. Brenner said. But she doesn't believe it exists. The housing crisis is a policy problem, she says, one that Nimbyism, zoning laws, land use restrictions and tax policies have made worse. She fears that the dream of a tech fix will distract voters and politicians from those culprits.


It now costs as much as $500,000 per unit to build low-income housing in the most expensive markets. Savings in the cost of construction could help developers of such housing stretch subsidies further. Cheaper construction could also change the math in markets where developers say it's also not profitable to build middle-class housing.

But Mr. Hoffman is skeptical that construction tech can fundamentally change affordability; market-rate developers have no incentive to pass those savings on to renters or home buyers, he said


It's notable this month that as both Microsoft and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative pledged major new housing investments, neither proposed spending its money on tech fixes. Both announced investment funds to help affordable housing developers. And both plan to push for local policies that would make it easier to expand housing.

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