It’s no secret that thousands of Silicon Valley tech workers who would rather live in San Francisco are being bused in and out of the city every day. But after these policies have come under fire, it appears that a handful those tech companies are trying to encourage employees to live closer to work.

With cash.

The incentives vary between companies, but Reuters confirmed Facebook’s policy with current and former employees, who are getting up to $10,000 a year to help defray housing costs if they buy or rent a home within 10 miles of its Menlo Park headquarters. Employees with families can get as much as $15,000.

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In almost everywhere else in the world, workers would jump at the chance to live within walking or biking distance of their place of employment, if only they could afford it. This is truly one of those “only in San Francisco” situations because the Bay Area is all backwards. These companies are actually giving employees extra money to live in the more affordable cities of Silicon Valley, instead of commuting from the more desirable (and expensive) San Francisco. But is it the right thing to do?

On one hand, this could help—or at least give the impression that Facebook is trying to help—fix San Francisco’s housing crisis. A few hundred fewer Facebook employees living in San Francisco could open the door for some people who actually work in the city to move in. And it eliminates some wasteful practices from an operational standpoint: If more employees lived closer to work, Facebook wouldn’t have to foot the bill to shuttle them up to 30 miles each way.

But Facebook doesn’t need to save money, and maybe that’s what feels so icky about it. Instead of giving its employees $15,000 to stay local, why not donate that money to improve the cities around Facebook’s campus to make them better places to live, and therefore more desirable to employees? Facebook has actually been doing this in a limited way for awhile, mostly by developing attractive housing projects near its campus that feel more like fancy resorts (but really, dorms).

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But the incentive is problematic, because it’s essentially widening the wage gap for those looking for a place to live. And Silicon Valley cities have their own housing problems. You could imagine how out of control this could get, as apartment owners learn about the incentives and raise their rents higher and higher, forcing longtime residents out.

What do you think? Is it okay for Facebook to essentially pay its employees to leave San Francisco?

[Reuters]

Follow the author at @awalkerinLA

Photo of Facebook’s new campus via Facebook