You would be hard pressed to find a prettier
mountain community than Asheville, N.C. Surrounded by the
Great Smoky Mountains, home to such writers as Thomas Wolfe
and O. Henry, Asheville is that rare town that actually looks
better than its postcards.
So why is Mission Hospital, Asheville's top-notch
medical facility and Buncombe County's largest employer, having
so much trouble attracting high-caliber clinicians? High housing
"We have no trouble attracting people here. Our hospital
is ranked among the top 100 in the country," says Janet
Moore, marketing communications director. "But Asheville
also has the highest housing market in the state, and that is
proving to be more and more of an issue for us as an employer,
both for attracting and keeping people."
Case in point: Mission spent two years recruiting
a top-tier physicist. A candidate had all but committed --
until he and his wife arrived to scout out a home. Sticker
shock killed the deal.
Three years ago, Moore caught wind of a Fannie
Mae initiative called employer-assisted housing, or EAH, designed
to help employers establish mortgage assistance programs for
With the help of Fannie Mae and the local Affordable
Housing Coalition, Mission designed a program that includes
home-buyer education, debt counseling, an employee savings
program and a dollar-for-dollar company match of up to $2,500
toward a down payment. It even requires that first-time buyers
remain in the program for six months after closing to protect
them from predatory lenders.
There are stipulations. Participants must have
worked for the hospital for at least one year, make less than
the $46,800 salary cap (although their household income may
exceed that), complete the mortgage education classes, save
for 10 consecutive months and buy a home within Buncombe County.
Habitat for Humanity homes are eligible; mobile homes are
The program is designed to keep employees at
the facility. By the time an employee is ready to close, they
will have been in the program three years, the point at which
vesting kicks in. So far, more than 30 employees have signed
"We look at this more as a retention tool
than a recruitment tool," says Moore. "It's very
different from a sign-on bonus. If they come to you for the
money, they will leave for money. We help them into a home.
How likely is it that they are going to want to leave at that
Bullish on benevolence
Fannie Mae's EAH program is a four-way partnership between the
employer, the employee, a local lender and Fannie Mae:
- The employer offers the benefit, often in
the form of a forgivable, deferred or repayable loan, grant
or savings match.
- The employee applies for the program, meets
the criteria set by the employer (which often includes homebuyer
education and credit counseling) and meets the financial
qualifications to buy a home.
- The lender provides first mortgage underwriting
and origination and manages the relationship with the employee.
- Fannie Mae helps the employer create the
program by running cost-benefit analyses and providing loan
documents and survey forms to help get the program started.
Fannie Mae knew from the outset that it had
to make a business case for employer-assisted housing. Not
only are employers unlikely to part with money out of the
kindness of their hearts, they are certainly not interested
in burdening already-swamped human resources staff with administering
something as foreign as a mortgage lending program.