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  • Heather PresleyCowen

Empowered Finance: Engaging Employers in Local Housing Solutions




In our ongoing Empowered Finance series, we turn our focus to a crucial yet often underleveraged stakeholder in the housing equation – employers. As businesses increasingly recognize the impact of housing on workforce stability and retention, there emerges a significant opportunity: integrating employers into local housing solutions not just as participants, but as customers.


The Employer's Stake in Housing

A stable, accessible housing market is more than a community asset; it's a critical component of employee retention and attraction. Employees commuting more than 15 minutes face a higher risk of seeking employment closer to home, making housing a key factor in workforce stability. Furthermore, studies show that living close (within 15 minutes drive or less) to the workplace increases employee engagement and can increase happiness.


Treating Employers and Employees as Housing Customers

Communities can engage employers by framing housing strategies as solutions that cater to their needs – much like any other customer-oriented service.


Assessing Needs

  • Surveys and Studies: Conduct surveys to understand the housing needs of the local workforce.

  • Focus Groups: Engage employers in discussions about their employees' housing challenges and preferences.


Tailored Solutions

  • Employer-Assisted Housing Programs: Encourage employers to offer housing assistance as part of employee benefits.

  • Relocation Packages: For attracting talent, integrate housing assistance into relocation packages.

Innovative Finance: Employers in the Capital Stack

Addressing the housing production barriers in areas where market potential rents and prices exceed current levels requires creative financial solutions. Employers can significantly influence this landscape by participating in the capital stack, thereby removing these barriers. Here’s how various tools can be employed:


Loan Guarantees: A Safety Net for Lenders and Borrowers

  • Employer-backed Guarantees: Employers can collaborate with lenders to provide loan guarantees for housing projects. This involvement can assure lenders by mitigating the risks associated with new developments.

  • Benefits:

    • Risk Mitigation: Reduces perceived risks for lenders, encouraging them to finance projects.

    • Lower Interest Rates: Attracts more favorable financing conditions for housing projects.


Master Leases: Stability and Security for Developers and Tenants

  • Employer as Lessee: Employers can enter into master lease agreements, leasing units in a development and subletting them to their employees.

  • Advantages:

    • Guaranteed Occupancy: Provides developers with a steady income stream, ensuring project viability.

    • Affordable Housing: Facilitates more affordable housing options for employees.


Employer Participation in Housing Bonds

  • Investing in Community Bonds: Employers can invest in housing bonds to finance projects that cater to their workforce's needs.

  • Impact: This direct investment supports housing projects while potentially offering a return, influencing the housing market to benefit the workforce.


Tax Incentives for Employer Contributions

  • Incentives for Investment: Tax credits can be offered to businesses that contribute to local housing initiatives.

  • Impact: This approach helps bridge financing gaps, enabling feasible projects in high-potential markets.


Direct Employer Assistance Programs

  • Down Payment Assistance and Rental Subsidies: These benefits can be decisive in making housing affordable for employees, especially in high-cost areas.


Shared Equity Models

  • Co-Investment in Housing: Through shared equity, employers contribute to home purchases in return for a share in future appreciation, aiding in homeownership access.


Leveraging the H.O.M.E. Method

These strategies, when integrated with the H.O.M.E. Method, offer a structured approach to addressing housing finance challenges. This method’s focus on market potential helps identify impactful employer participation opportunities.


Conclusion

Innovative financing solutions, including loan guarantees, master leases, housing bonds, tax incentives, direct assistance programs, and shared equity models, enable employers to play a transformative role in housing production. This involvement is crucial in markets where the potential exceeds current values, like many areas of the Midwest, removing barriers and fostering a vibrant, accessible housing landscape that benefits the entire community.

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