The Ontario-based engineering consultancy firm C.F. Crozier and Associates Inc. is going beyond offering typical benefits, such as eye, dental and mental-health care, and providing employees with $20,000 to use as a down payment on their first home.

Nick Mocan, president of C.F. Crozier, says he’d often hear employees relay horror stories of bidding wars and losing out on properties. “Our founder, chief financial officer and I really just put our heads together to find a solution to address these issues that we were hearing on the ground with our current employees.”

When the company announced the program in February, it caught employees by surprise, he says. “The outpouring of emotions was incredible. We wanted to make it impactful and that’s why we chose the value that we did. We looked at the cost of what it takes to put a down payment on a house and for a house worth $650,000, it’s [at least] a $40,000 down payment. You know, $20,000 makes it easier and cuts that cost in half.”

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Employees must be with the company — which has offices in Bradford, Ont., Collingwood, Ont., Milton, Ont., and Toronto — for at least a year before they’re eligible for the program, says Mocan, so it helped address many of their current employees’ needs fairly quickly because they’d already been with the company for a few years. But he says employees must also qualify as a first-time home buyer according to the federal government’s home buyers’ plan, with which it works in tandem. The funds must be deposited into the employees’ own registered retirement savings plan account directly and it has to stay there for 90 days before they can apply it as part of their down payment on their home.

Mocan joined the company while pursuing his master’s degree 17 years ago, so he knows what it’s like to work hard in school and graduate with student debt. Saving enough money for a down payment for a house was out of the question for him, he says, adding that the company’s founder, Chris Crozier, provided him with immeasurable support as he grew both professionally and personally — and he wanted to provide that same support to the organization’s employees.

“Wherever we plant our offices, we get involved in the community. We’re very much a boots-on-the-ground company. We volunteer [and] get involved with local businesses and economic development of the area. It’s really hard to do that remotely when your staff is commuting from an hour and a half away because that’s all they can afford. We identified the biggest barrier and . . . overwhelmingly, the biggest barrier to home ownership is the down payment, especially early on in your career, so that’s what we decided to focus on.”

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The gift comes with only one caveat — because of how substantial this new benefit is, C.F. Crozier is asking employees who take advantage of it to commit to staying with the company for three years. “It’s voluntary — they don’t have to use the benefit if they don’t need it. The employees I’ve surveyed and spoken to who’ve received the benefit enjoy working at the company. They like the working conditions and they’re so grateful for the support that committing to three years is really an afterthought to them.”

And the fact that the program has improved the company’s position on the retention side is just the proverbial icing on the cake, adds Mocan. “Making a meaningful impact on people’s lives is really the most important thing. Personal growth and career growth go hand in hand. And if the company can help on the personal growth side of things, in addition to the career growth side, I think you’re going to have quite happy employees who are going to flourish and thrive within the company.”

In terms of employee attraction and retention, an employee hired in May told Mocan that before joining the company, he was considering another job offer from a similar consulting firm and the home buyer’s benefits tipped the scales in C.F. Crozier’s favour. “He knows he won’t be eligible until he’s been there a year and that’s fine with him. But knowing that the program is there, he has something to look forward to and can plan accordingly.

“To suggest that we’re going to shut the door on this benefit anytime soon, I think would be foolish. We’ll review our budget annually and continue to move forward.”

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