Like many Ontario 30-year-olds, Ian Blechta has worked hard during his fledgling career as an engineer, saving as much as he could and frequently checking out local housing prices first in Hamilton and recently in the Collingwood area with the goal of one day owning his own home.
But with prices rising, especially over the past year, his income and savings just weren’t adding up to enable him to achieve his dream of home ownership, even combined with the resources of his girlfriend.
That is until this year, when his employer, Collingwood-based Crozier Consulting Engineers, created a plan to offer eligible employees a $20,000 benefit to fund a down payment towards their first home.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Blechta, who with his girlfriend has bought a home for $500,000 in nearby Stayner. “Everything came together at the perfect time and then the homebuyers plan was a perfect top-up to help us get the mortgage and help it become a reality for us to have a home.”
Blechta explained the financial company he was dealing with was not going to approve a mortgage, but the Crozier bonus made the difference. He was intending to stay with the firm and advance his career as an engineer in training anyway and the housing benefit confirmed his plans.
“I had never heard of any other company doing this before,” he said. “To be part of that in addition to being part of a company that’s being progressive like that in terms of recruiting, and also trying to hold employees, is something that’s exciting to be part of.”
Crozier president Nick Mocan explained the firm decided to create the program when the housing hardships of many of the firm’s 230 employees became “horror stories.”
“It was a common struggle, with individuals of all ages, all levels in their career, all positions in the company, all struggling with a similar problem,” he said.
“We as a leadership team just came together to figure out a way to help them out. It’s really that simple.”
The average national home price has risen 26 per cent year over year, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. In Toronto, where Crozier has one office, housing is so expensive that to afford an average home in the city, couples would have to spend around 70 per cent or more of their paycheques on housing payments alone — much more than the 30-per-cent threshold at which housing is considered affordable.
It is not quite that bad in Collingwood but prices are definitely shooting up, Mocan said, as they are in Bradford and Milton, where Crozier’s two other offices are located.
At last count, nine employees had qualified for the housing benefit, and three other applications are pending.
“We didn’t just roll this out blindly,” said Mocan. “We looked at the market and not only costed it out for the company, but for our employees. We wanted to make a meaningful impact. We’re not just buying houses for everybody, that’s not the program, the program is to give them the shot in the arm that they need to get them over the edge so that they can realize their dream of home ownership.”
Crozier has long had an enlightened employee benefits program, Mocan said, with a maternity and paternity top-up program and lifelong learning plans among a number of progressive programs.
“Retention is the name of the game, first and foremost,” he said. “Retention is the best recruitment strategy to my mind and a side benefit being recruitment, certainly that, you know that’s on our mind as well. We’ve already seen an uptick in interest in our company.”
Besides the significant employee uptake, Mocan said there has been “overwhelmingly positive” reaction within the industry and more broadly. Colleagues have indicated that Crozier’s story has inspired them to look for ways to help their own employees.
“If we can help our employees succeed in their personal lives, there’s a better chance they’re going to succeed in their professional side. If we can help with both, I think it’s just a win-win situation.”
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