Last Monday, the staff at the Collingwood office of C.F. Crozier & Associates Inc. were celebrating.
One of the staff members had just received her keys after purchasing her first home.
The purchase had been made possible through a First-Time Home Buyers’ Assistance Program recently launched through the land development engineering firm, where full-time employees are eligible for a gift of up to $20,000 to help them put a down payment on their first home.
Crozier is one of many companies in Collingwood that are thinking outside of the box in order to attract talented workers to the area during a time where South Georgian Bay is seeing a major shortage in affordable and attainable housing stock.
“It is very difficult in Collingwood to be able to attract new talent to facilitate our growth,” said Nick Mocan, president of Crozier & Associates Inc. “The demand for housing up here has really soared. The prices are exceedingly higher than they’ve been in the past. That has created challenges not only for attracting talent but also for staff that are renting in Collingwood to try to get into the market.”
“We’re really trying to break down barriers. Every little bit counts when you’re starting out. We’re trying to help make their home ownership dreams a true reality,” he said.
The First-Time Home Buyers’ Assistance Program is designed to address the evolving needs of employees and help remove the barriers to home ownership. In exchange for the $20,000, employees must agree to stay with the company for at least three years after the money is given.
The program is just one way Crozier attracts talent, as it also offers scholarships and mentorship initiatives to foster employee development and does top-ups for maternity and paternity leave.
Mocan himself started at Crozier when he was a student in Guelph, moving up the chain over time with help from the company’s mentorship program.
“When Crozier was just getting off the ground here in Collingwood at 110 Pine St., Chris Crozier and the company invested in me substantially. They helped me finish my Master’s degree, and guaranteed a job for me after graduation,” said Mocan. “I certainly wouldn’t be sitting here today without that mentorship.”
“It’s the secret sauce that makes us tick here at Crozier,” he added, with a laugh.
Dan Webster, owner of Collingwood’s Canadian Tire, took a more personal approach when it came to coming up with housing solutions for staff members.
Webster personally invested in rental properties in Collingwood to help house new employees who are moving from out of area as a stop-gap solution until they can find permanent accommodation.
“COVID has really demonstrated that we need more affordable housing in the community,” said Webster. “I feel like I have an obligation to help figure that out. If we want to have all these restaurants and stores, we need to figure out affordable housing for all (the workers).”
Webster refused to lay off any of his staff or cut hours throughout the pandemic, instead having them pivot to perform different duties at the store.
“I’ve been working to make sure they all have a job and stay employed to they can pay their rent, or pay their mortgage, and feed their families,” said Webster. “I’m just trying to do my part.”
“We’ve had cashiers doing personal shopping for customers,” he said, adding that jobs have changed from month to month depending on ever-changing health advice and rules from the provincial government.
“We just worked together as one big team,” he said.
At Living Water Resort in Collingwood, Don Buckle, vice president of resort operations, says the resort expanded their housing stock for employees after he made a sobering discovery.
“I can be naive sometimes,” said Buckle. “I was talking with an employee, and he was 17. He had worked with us, on and off, over the years. I learned he was living in a tent.”
“That’s when I started understanding the homelessness problem here and people having to live in the woods. I found out another employee was doing the same thing. I asked what they did in the wintertime, and they said they had to couch surf,” said Buckle.
At the time, Buckle said the resort offered three three-bedroom units as housing for staff in timeshares that had been taken out of the commercial rotation.
“It was really disheartening to start to learn that even within my own employees, there were people who had that problem that they couldn’t afford an apartment or any other kind of accommodation,” he said.
He approached resort owner Larry Law about the issue, and they decided to expand housing options for employees. He said the timeshares typically brought in about $5,000 per month when they were rented commercially. Employee paychecks are garnished by between $300 or $350 per person for staff staying in the timeshares.
“For us, it isn’t about the dollar and cents. There was a need,” said Buckle.
As of now, Buckle said the resort has opened 47 timeshare units to be used as staff housing.
“Even though the summer is going to be busy, there’s just such a demand, especially as you’re trying to get employees into this (sector). Where are they going to rent?” said Buckle.
Buckle says providing a housing option has made it easier for the resort to retain staff.
“The price of housing in this area has become ridiculous. We know that employees can struggle with that,” he said.