The perk companies should be offering employees: Help with housing

  • Companies should help employees with housing— in the form of a loan or guarantee for the employee's mortgage or backing for an apartment developer.
  • This would pump relatively "lazy" capital on corporate balance sheets directly into the economy.
  • For the company, it would mean interest on that loan and a nice incentive to help solicit and retain talent.

Chip Chipman | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Housing has proven elusive in many markets and often the case is affordability — whether it's sky-high prices or a personal financial matter — difficulty scraping together a downpayment or a bad credit history affecting a mortgage or rental agreement.

So, what do you do if you are an employer trying to lure employees to come and work for you?

One solution is for companies to actually start helping employees with housing. An employer might provide a loan to the employee or a guarantee for a mortgage that the employee might not otherwise get because of credit history, school debt or other outstanding loans, or short employment history (e.g., a millennial just entering the workforce). The company might also be the mortgage lender or put up equity or debt behind an apartment developer.

Helping employees get over financing hurdles for housing would pump relatively "lazy" capital on corporate balance sheets directly into the economy. Public corporations have trillions in liquid assets, so the scale and impact of providing housing assistance to employees could be significant.

In return, it would be beneficial to companies in a couple of ways: 1) The company would get interest on that loan and 2) It would help companies solicit and retain valuable employees. For example, they could offer employees the convenience of living close to work.

President Trump, through his real-estate and business background is well suited to make the case to companies for such a program. The administration has already assembled America's corporate leaders, the very group that could refine, implement and promote this initiative of company-assisted housing.

Of course, it might not make sense for every employer or employee but as a voluntary program it could bring a nice infusion of corporate cash into the broader economy.

Google, as an example, is finally starting a large home-building project for its employees. Its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., offers every conceivable activity and amenity to keep employees at work; but, at some point they have to go home and the closer, and more comfortable, the better.

Such a program could have a ripple effect: It would likely encourage developers of middle income apartment housing, presently a lagging sector of the housing industry, to proceed. It pumps money into the economy and creates the non-skilled jobs we need.

Currently, there is a disagreement about whether bank-lending requirements to prospective homeowners need to be loosened or tightened. In either event, nothing makes more sense than bringing the employer into the loan picture because it should be in a better position to assess an employee's future than any bank loan officer.

As part of the recent "National Homeownership Month" in June, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed that banks be provided with evidence of who is likely to default in order to make more loans available to worthy home buyers. That noble effort needs to be supplemented by an employer because employers are, to date, the most highly disregarded predictor of the borrower's future.

Secretary Carson has also proposed a creative initiative which combines school debt held by millennials with their home mortgages to bring down the interest rate on the former.

President Trump recently said he was committed to substantially increasing homeownership so "that hard-working Americans enjoy a fair chance at becoming homeowners," which he writes will also benefit communities, states and America.

This win-win objective also needs the win that companies will experience when they adopt the objective of helping their employees with their housing needs.

Commentary by Jeremy Wiesen, a retired Professor of Entrepreneurship at New York University's Stern School of Business. He was also the chairman and co-CEO of the Financial News Network, which was later acquired by CNBC.

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