While employer-assisted housing programs offer many benefits to the employees, employers and the community as a whole, they can be challenging to enact and difficult to maintain. Community members must build and sustain political will and funding for employer-assisted housing programs. Additionally, employer-assisted housing programs should be designed with attention to whom the program will benefit and how to mitigate displacement of current residents.
Securing and maintaining committed funding
Employer-assisted housing works best when there are adequate resources committed to match funding programs. The recent economic downturn has strained many government budgets, limiting the ability for some communities to continue this type of support to supplement employer housing benefits.
For example, the City of Philadelphia’s Home – Buy – Now program was suspended in the spring of 2009 due to a lack of city funds. The program was subsequently restored after 2010 before being suspended again due to lack of funds again in the summer of 2016. The program is now focused on advocacy to restore funding and continue the program. Prior to suspension, the program offered matching funds from $500 up to $4,000, depending on the employer, for homebuyers employed at one of 25 participating Home – Buy – Now workplaces. Over approximately 10, the program has issued about 400 grants.
Avoiding gentrification and displacement
By increasing homeownership rates and bringing new housing investment into a neighborhood, employer-assisted housing programs could increase gentrification pressures in a community. To help ensure that displacement does not occur, programs could consider offering assistance to existing non-employee residents who would be threatened by displacement and limiting employee assistance to lower-income rather than mid- or management-level employees.
Achieving real benefit for low-income working families
Evaluations of Employer-Assisted Housing programs have shown that they are much more effective at meeting the housing needs of moderate-income workers rather than low-income ones. In particular, in high-cost housing markets, the level of assistance typically offered by employer-assisted housing programs cannot bridge the affordability gap faced by lower-income employees. In areas where home prices are modest, a small amount of down payment assistance may be a significant bonus for middle-income workers who would be able to afford housing otherwise; however, it might do little to help low-income workers. In order to help lower-income workers, rental assistance might be more effective than homebuyer assistance programs, but employers are generally more apt to help employees purchase than rent homes. However, assessing the housing needs of the workforce is important when deciding what kinds of employer-assisted housing programs will be most effective.
Program uptake may be a problem specifically for programs that offer congregated housing on or adjacent to the employee’s place of work. For example, some school districts have converted unused school property into housing for teachers. For some, the housing may be too close to their work for comfort. Others argue that increased teacher salaries, as opposed to employer-assisted housing, would solve the housing affordability problem as well as offering employees a greater choice of where to live.