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October 19, 2001
More Companies Help Workers Buy Homes
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waukee-based Harley-Davidson is among a small but growing number of employers who help their workers buy homes, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

For instance, the company chipped in $2,500 toward a down payment on a fixer-upper Victorian going to employee Mike Lea. The money is a "forgivable loan" that will be completely zeroed out if Lea stays with Harley-Davidson for five years.

Lea says he's glad because the home's location lets him walk to work. "I got a great house, I got support from my own company, and I can walk to work at the same time," he tells the Monitor. "It shows to me that the company is motivated to do the right things."

Harley has offered the same deal for the past three years to any employee who moves into specific neighborhoods in the inner-city area where the company is headquartered.

The benefit, known as employer-assisted housing (EAH), is part of Harley's broader commitment to restore the local community.

According to a survey last year by the Society for Human Resource Management, some 6 percent of employers offer mortgage assistance to their employees, while 3 percent offer help with down payments.

Fannie Mae, the nation's largest provider of home mortgage funds, increased efforts 18 months ago to help employers develop housing benefit programs. Since then, it has worked with some 150 employers in creating EAH packages, the Monitor reports.

More than half of that total has come this year, even as the economy has slowed, according to Beth Marcus, director of housing and community development for Fannie Mae.

"Employers are looking for some cutting-edge approach that helps them recruit and retain people," says Ms. Marcus. "Unemployment is now at 4.9 percent. That's still pretty low. There are very few employee benefits that really help you retain workers. Home ownership is about as apple pie as you can get."

The Monitor says housing assistance can take a variety of forms, depending on what an employer wants to spend, including forgivable loans, interest-free loans, matched savings accounts, or home-buyer-education programs. For many employers, the money invested in an EAH program is offset by savings gained by lower employee turnover rates.

Fannie Mae points out that a reduction in turnover of 1 percent for a company of 5,000 people can save the cost of hiring and training 50 new employees.

To view the Christian Science Monitor story, click here.

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