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One in four employers plans to offer housing benefits to employees this year, according to a new survey. Is it just a way to get people back to the office? 

First there is more money. Then there are stock options. Increasingly, flexible in-office days are on the table. And now, there’s one more benefit some companies are offering: housing help. 

Once a perk reserved for CEOs and senior executives, housing assistance in the form of loans or other financial help is becoming a compelling aspect of compensation for companies seeking to attract and retain key talent. One recent survey found that one in four employers plans to offer housing assistance to employees this year. The specifics vary by company, but can include loans and other financial incentives ranging from a few hundred dollars to $20,000 or more to help with a down payment, rent, or even home repairs. On average, companies plan to spend $6,200 per employee on housing assistance in 2024, according to the survey. 

Coming at a time when job openings have dropped sharply, this new benefit may come as a surprise to some candidates. But David Wise, vice chairman of the Rewards practice at Korn Ferry, says organizations need to stand out in the fierce competition for people with key skills. Housing assistance is less about the cost and more about the message, he says. “The organization is showing they’re there to help you build a literal foundation, and there’s a psychological impact to that,” says Wise. He says housing benefits engender loyalty in ways other benefits don’t, “because of what they signify.”

The trend is most pronounced in areas where housing and rental shortages have driven up costs, such as Silicon Valley, where tech companies have long offered housing assistance to employees. But it is spreading to areas like Cleveland and Charlotte because of the talent shortage in industries, like healthcare, where employees need to be on-site, says Steve Kapper, an associate client partner and head of the National Health and Welfare Benefits practice at Korn Ferry. “More healthcare organizations are using this as a sweetener to fill full-time positions,” he says. 

Ron Seifert, North America Workforce Reward and Benefits leader at Korn Ferry, says people increasingly expect employers to help them find—if not provide them with—affordable housing, and are willing to trade other benefits for it. “It’s about providing choices,” says Seifert. To be sure, one-third of employees in the survey say they would prefer housing assistance to a pay raise, and a quarter of them would give up two to three weeks of vacation in exchange.

But some experts caution that employer-sponsored housing assistance isn’t all about altruism. Part of the reason more companies are offering housing assistance is to get people back into the office, says Kapper. According to the survey, for instance, marketing, finance, and information technology—industries where employees aren’t typically required to be in the office—are among the industries most likely to offer housing assistance. Similarly, small and midsize companies, which usually feature smaller workforces and fewer locations, are more likely to offer the perk than larger companies. 

Offering housing assistance could also come at the expense of other benefits or perks. Wise says organizations usually take the money out of another benefit to fund the cost of housing assistance. He says the increasing popularity of housing assistance reflects changing employee preferences and priorities—otherwise organizations wouldn’t be offering it. “You always need to be looking for that sweet spot between balancing the actual cost of a program with how employees perceive it,” says Wise. 

With workers just as concerned about soaring healthcare costs and flattening wage growth as they are about housing costs, “why not just pay people more,” asks Kyle Marcum, a senior analyst at Korn Ferry. Even if some people would prefer housing assistance to a raise, Marcum says, many others could view it as a distraction from the larger problem of salaries not keeping up with the cost of living. 

Shanda Mints, vice president of recruitment process outsourcing analytics and implementation at Korn Ferry, worries that housing assistance could morph into a form of “golden handcuffs” making it more difficult for people to leave their employers. She notes housing benefits, particularly financial ones, usually require employees to stay in the area and with the company for a specified time. While employer-sponsored assistance could help pay for housing, it could also make it harder for people to change jobs and living arrangements if things don’t work out. “They may have to stay there,” she says. 


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