Elon Musk's Affordable Housing Ambitions

Elon Musk Boring Company

Entrepreneur Elon Musk has developed a reputation for delivering on projects that others have dismissed, and his latest pronouncement to alleviate the US housing crisis has also attracted a number of naysayers. Following a heated exchange on Twitter last week, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX announced that he plans to turn dirt excavated by his tunnel-digging enterprise the Boring Company into a cheap building material for low cost housing.

It was while stuck in LA traffic back in 2016 that Musk announced the launch of the Boring Company. "Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging . . ." he Tweeted, and his plan is to build a private mass transport system of cars on electric skates in tunnels, which could shuttle users under the city at speeds of 130 miles per hour.

A test tunnel is currently being constructed in Hawthorne, California, on land owned by Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp., but a spokesperson for the company has said that they plan to make the bricks out of mud excavated from all Boring Company tunnels - in February, the company got the go-ahead to start digging a tunnel between Washington DC and New York City that could facilitate Musk’s high-speed Hyperloop transport system.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Musk has also suggested that he has plans to sell the bricks, and the company has said they will be used to construct all future Boring Company offices. Also, according to the company’s website, the bricks could potentially replace concrete in a portion of its tunnels' linings, which it says would help the environment as concrete production creates significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite Musk’s social ambitions for the project, for some the amount of affordable housing units the bricks will facilitate is questionable. It “assumes that housing costs are driven by construction materials, and particularly, construction materials that can be replaced by bricks," explained Juan Matute, a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and associate director of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies, to Bloomberg’s Sarah McBride. "That's not the case," he went on to say, as in California, where digging has started, it’s land and labor that drive prices more than anything else. And another potential hurdle, also outlined on Bloomberg, is that chemicals have contaminated much of the land under Los Angeles, and any contaminants showing up in the excavated Boring Company soil would complicate efforts to make that material into bricks used for housing.

There may be challenges surrounding Musk’s latest venture, but as Matute has acknowledged, they might not prevent the entrepreneur from succeeding, something his track record certainly attests to.

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