Considering Housing Assistance Benefits? You Can Help Fight Discrimination Too
There’s a good chance that your employees are clamoring for housing assistance benefits. The sharp rise in housing prices over the past decade and a lack of homes for sale have made it harder for homebuyers, especially first-time buyers, to achieve the ever more elusive American dream. Employees have responded with a clear desire for help from their employers.
According to SoFi at Work’s The Future of Workplace Financial Well-being 2022 survey (which included 1,600 employees and HR leaders), 60% of workers want their employers to add, improve, or expand homeownership assistance. This need for help with homeownership will likely increase with the current environment of rising interest rates and the continued shortage of new home construction.
As you look at housing assistance for your employees, consider that these benefits can have far-reaching effects. They not only address a vital and current challenge among your workforce, but can also help fight housing discrimination and close the generational wealth gap that decades of unfair treatment may have caused among your workforce.
The situation is dire. The divide in homeownership rates between Black and white Americans is now nearly 30% — that’s higher than what it was in 1960, when racial discrimination in housing was legal. In the first quarter of 2022, 44.7% of Black Americans owned their homes, compared with 74% of white Americans, according to the U.S. Census. A person’s home is often their largest financial asset, the benefits of which are usually passed on to the next generation. Low homeownership rates may contribute significantly to the widening generational wealth gap between Black and white Americans.
This imbalance doesn’t have to continue. Your firm can help by providing equitable homeownership benefits for all of your employees.
Barriers to Minority Homeownership
The first step toward providing equitable homeownership benefits is to understand exactly what stands in the way of minority employees owning their own homes. Here’s a look at some of the major obstacles they face.
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Disproportionate Amounts of Student Debt
According to the October 2021 Education Trust report, “Jim Crow Debt: How Black Borrowers Experience Student Loans,” 67% of Blacks earning $75,000 to $100,000 delayed buying a home because of student loan debt. Black households are also more than twice as likely to have student debt, and their median student loan balance is $10,000 higher than white households, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Lack of Credit History
More than two million Black employees meet income requirements but do not have enough credit history to qualify for a mortgage, especially one with favorable interest rates.
Down payment and Closing Costs
Because minority families are less likely to have accumulated wealth or access to generational wealth, down payment and closing costs often become the greatest obstacle to Black homeownership.
Persistent Housing Discrimination
Despite decades of anti-discrimination legislation and other efforts to fight redlining, create fair lending, and ban racial and other biases, housing discrimination still exists in many markets throughout the country. Whether it’s subtle or overt, housing discrimination holds people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people back by denying them access to safe and secure neighborhoods, good schools, and the generational wealth that comes with homeownership.
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What Employers Can Do
Employer-sponsored housing assistance can help break down these barriers to homeownership and provide a much-needed and desired benefit to all of your employees. Consider these four steps to help fight discrimination and provide a path to homeownership for all employees in your diverse workforce.
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Step 1: Understand Your Black Employees’ Financial Well-being
Conduct a financial health assessment to analyze the overall financial wellness of your workers, as well as specific challenges Black employees may face. This data will help determine how your current and potential programs can be tailored to fit the needs of your Black and minority employees.
In addition, utilize your employee resource groups to understand the specific challenges Black employees may face when it comes to buying a home.
Step 2: Help Eliminate Barriers to Homeownership
We saw above the obstacles Black employees may face when trying to qualify for and afford a home. Fortunately, there are targeted benefits you can offer to help employees overcome these barriers.
Student loan repayment benefits, for example, can help reduce the disproportionate amount of student debt your Black employees likely carry, freeing up funds for home-buying costs. Now is a particularly good time to offer student debt repayment programs or enhance your programs. New government rules allow employers to provide $5,250 tax-exempt annually for an employee’s student loan repayment through 2025. Employees will also have no tax liability for the contributions.
Automatic savings programs, especially with an employer match, can help employees build emergency savings to provide the cushion they need to handle unexpected expenses. With an emergency fund in place, employees can then divert any extra funds toward saving for a down payment on a home.
Employer-sponsored credit counseling can help employees check their scores and, if necessary, take steps to improve them. This can help them qualify for the best-rate, lowest-cost mortgages and the many government-sponsored first-time home buying programs available in each state.
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Step 3: Help Make Home Buying More Affordable
Many employers are offering direct down payment assistance (such as paying a percentage of an employee’s down payment up to a maximum) to employees looking for homes in targeted areas, often when trying to incentivize working in the office.
Another way to help is to offer prospective home buyers counseling on accessing government-sponsored grants and low-interest loans designed to help first-time homebuyers cover down payments and closing costs.
Also, consider teaming up with local mortgage experts, financial counselors, and real estate pros in your area. They may be willing to offer free seminars and reduced fees and commissions for their services in return for a large pool of potential clients.
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Step 4: Address Housing Discrimination Directly
As we mentioned above, housing discrimination still exists in various forms, and many of your employees may be facing it. When you implement any housing assistance programs or financial education programs dedicated to housing, it’s important to ensure these programs are accessible to all employees regardless of the salary level, job title, location, or any other circumstance.
In addition, if you work with any outside vendors for real estate services, mortgage lending, credit counseling, or other financial counseling services, you may want to ensure that they have proven track records and expertise with minority homeownership and housing advocacy.
SoFi at Work Can Help
Our suite of benefits, tools, and resources are designed to help you help employees improve their financial well-being and break down any barriers they may face in achieving their goals, including homeownership. Backed by our contribution programs, workforce financial health assessments, credit score monitoring, financial counseling, and budgeting tools, HR leaders can level the playing field and help make the American dream accessible for all workers.
Can Employers Help Fight Housing Discrimination?
Yes. HR leaders can help fight discrimination by understanding the special challenges Black and other minority employees face when it comes to homeownership and offering equitable home-buying assistance programs.
What Steps Can Employers Take to Help Black Employees Become Homeowners?
They can start by doing a financial assessment of their workforce. This can reveal barriers to homeownership Black workers face, which may include high levels of student debt, a poor or limited credit history, and a lack of savings for a downpayment. They can then tailor their financial wellness benefits to help address these issues. This might include student loan repayment assistance, credit counseling, seminars for first-time home buyers, down payment assistance, and automatic savings programs.
Do Employees Want Homeownership Benefits from Employers?
Yes. SoFi at Work data shows that a majority of workers are looking for homeownership help from employers. Offering these benefits can result in a more productive, loyal, and financially secure workforce.
Photo credit: iStock/Patrick Chu
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