Zurich is in the midst of a major housing crisis—and Google might be partly to blame.
Switzerland’s capital city is becoming increasingly unlivable for many of its citizens, as rental and buying prices exceed those in New York and London.
According to data from RealAdvisor, an apartment in the center of Zurich will set the average buyer back around 1,468 Swiss francs (around $1,617) per square foot, though prices in surrounding districts are pushing 1,850 francs/sq. ft.
That compares to around €1,000 (around $1,060) per square foot in Paris and around €790 in London, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Indeed, with home prices rising more than 50% in the last decade, a study by UBS ranked Zurich as the most at risk of a bursting housing bubble.
There are several reasons for swelling prices in the city. Population growth through immigration and delayed building projects in the wake of COVID-19 are seen as the primary drivers of housing inflation. But blame for soaring prices in one of Europe’s major financial hubs is increasingly being laid at the door of the world’s fourth-largest company.
Google opened its Zurich office in 2004 with just a handful of employees. Since then, the group’s presence in the city has grown to more than 5,000 workers.
The Zurich Googlers—or Zooglers as the Guardian reports as their local name—enjoy plenty of unusual perks in their office, including a slide, a squash court, and a Western-style saloon. There are currently three Google campuses in the city, with a fourth planned for later this year.
But it also appears Google’s Zurich staff are making themselves at home away from the workplace.
A browse of Homegate, a local housing portal, shows rental options in the city are heavily skewed towards single tenants on high salaries, with a wave of one-bedroom homes on the market.
Today’s exorbitant Zurich prices aren’t much of a stretch for Zooglers, with the typical software engineer earning anywhere between 153,000 and 225,000 Swiss francs per year, according to data from Glassdoor.
The company has grown to be one of the city’s biggest employers and the high salaries their employees command are helping drive high-skill immigration to the city, Bloomberg reports.
As a result, locals are increasingly finding themselves priced out of their desired areas in the city.
Christophe, speaking to local publication SWI in June under a fake name, said he attended a viewing for a five-bedroom rental apartment in the city priced at 5,500 francs a month for him, his wife, and his newborn daughter. Cristophe was faced with an 80-person line when he arrived at the viewing.
Claudia Naegeli, a spokesperson for the City of Zurich, told SWI that the city was looking to safeguard vulnerable residents against rising rental prices. The city implemented a minimum hourly wage of 23.90 Swiss francs (around $26.70) in June, which is nearly double London’s “living wage.”
It isn’t all rosy for Zooglers living in the city either. In March, Reuters reported that hundreds of Zurich employees staged a walkout after 200 employees in the city were impacted by the company’s massive layoffs announced in January.
Workers in Zurich offered to take a pay cut and reduce their working hours to stop their colleagues from losing their jobs, but Google rejected this proposal, reports Reuters.
A representative for Google didn’t immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
Google’s global expansion has helped leave more cities than Zurich in housing turmoil.
The tech giant employs about 5,500 people in Dublin, which acts as the European headquarters for some of the world’s biggest tech companies.
Google offered to subsidize housing in that city’s expensive Grand Canal area for nurses, teachers, and other frontline staff who had been priced out by tech workers’ salaries, though this was delayed last year.