Ont. engineering firm giving $20K to each employee for down payment on first home

Residential development in Collingwood, Ont. (CNW Group/C.F. Crozier & Associates Inc.)

An Ontario engineering firm has adopted a unique way to attract and retain talent: by offering all of their employees $20,000 for a down payment on their first home.

In late June, C.F. Crozier & Associates Inc. announced the launch of their First-Time Home Buyers' Assistance Program in an effort to help employees afford to buy a home in an overheated real estate market.

“We developed the program in direct response to some of the struggles that our current employees are having in becoming a homeowner in Ontario, where we have four offices. It was really designed to meet their evolving needs in this overheated housing market and to help make homeownership a reality for them,” Nick Mocan, Crozier’s president, told CTVNews.ca by phone Thursday.

The program works in conjunction with the federal government’s Home Buyers’ Plan, which allows eligible Canadians to withdraw from their registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) to buy or build a qualifying home.

All full-time employees at Crozier are eligible to apply for the $20,000 down payment – as long as they have worked there for more than a year – which is deposited into their RRSP account once they have been approved. Under the federal rules, the prospective homeowners then have to wait 90 days before making the withdrawal from their RRSP to use their down payment.

“The overwhelming reason why our employees can’t get into the housing market is because of the down payment and the stricter rules on the down payments that are currently in place,” Mocan explained, noting that employees were increasingly forced to look for homes well outside urban areas near the company’s offices – adding to their commutes and stress.

“It was met with surprise, appreciation and emotion. This isn’t something that anybody expected to happen at our little company… It really has changed some of their lives for the better.”

Overall, Mocan says the company simply wants to help remove one of the barriers that stood in the way of their employee’s housing search – such as rising housing prices that saw the national average jump 38 per cent in May 2021 from the same time last year, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA).

The national average home price is forecast to rise by 19 per cent on an annual basis to just over $677,775 in 2021, the CREA said in its most recent quarterly forecast.

In the Simcoe County region of Ontario, which includes the town of Collingwood where the Crozier headquarters is located, housing prices increased by 40 per cent year over year in May 2021. Prices that would have kept Crozier employee Ian Blechta out of the market.

“I’d been renting in Collingwood and since working at Crozier I knew it was where I wanted to live [permanently]. But I knew it was pretty hard to get a house with house prices rising fast,” the 30-year-old engineer in training told CTVNews.ca by phone Thursday.

“I tried pretty hard to get pre-approved for a house in a subdivision just outside of Collingwood and the bank wouldn’t give us pre-approval unless we could prove we had 20 per cent down… if it wasn’t for Crozier I don’t know that we would have been able to do that.”

Blechta and his girlfriend have since successfully purchased a pre-construction home thanks to the First-Time Home Buyers' Assistance Program.

“It’s a great way for the company to show that they care about their employees outside of just work,” he said. “I always had a long-term outlook to stay at Crozier, but I felt like that was good proof that they care about the success of their employees outside of work.”

The company, which develops residential and commercial land, is hoping its homebuyers’ incentive will attract talent for the 34 job openings at its locations in Collingwood, Milton, Bradford, and Toronto. But Mocan says the program was designed to help foster current employees first and foremost.

“Our first and foremost responsibility is really towards our current staff. Seeing that we help them grow not only professionally with their career but personally at home,” he said.

“A side benefit has been recruitment, no doubt about it. We have absolutely seen an uptick in more successful recruiting though.”​