TS Eliot once wrote that home is where one starts from. The line is in East Coker, Eliot’s second poem in Four Quartets. It establishes the emotional anchoring of home – the familiar in which we are based before we head off into a strange world.
The fortunate can understand the emotional appeal of home; we can sense the sights, smells and sounds of our childhood. But home is more than the location of our emotional grounding. For the vast majority of people on the planet, it is also the epicentre of financial wellbeing, the main family financial asset. Home is the place where financial security begins.
Recently, Backwoods launched a first time home ownership program for our employees. As part of the program, we will provide a one-time grossed up payment of 100% of the employees’ savings in their RRSP to a maximum of $10,000. There will also be an incentive of $2,000 per year of employment to a maximum incentive of $10,000. Employees who undertake the program will go through financial literacy training to ensure the decision is right for them.
We conceived the program after making two observations. First, assets are an integral component of financial security. As Stephen Jarrett details in his 2013 working paper, From Poverty Traps to Indigenous Philanthropy, “resilience to poverty depends largely on access to assets.” There is often an asset gap that exists among those families who cannot escape the cycle of poverty. And what is the asset most available asset to low and middle-income families? The home.
Second, Indigenous people own their own homes at a rate nearly 20% lower rate than non-indigenous households. In addition, homes are too often substandard and overcrowded (CMHC 2019). When families do seek to purchase a home, they too often encounter access to capital barriers making home ownership unattainable.
This is why we decided to launch the program. It became clear to us that home ownership is a major barrier to health and economic empowerment in Indigenous communities. And since it is our mission to drive Indigenous economic growth, we moved to create a program for our employees. That is how this initiative was born.
In many cases of corporate impact work, initiatives are overly complicated, superficial, or reflect PR calculations instead of genuine care. But there are always simple ways companies can matter to their people — unglamorous approaches that don’t necessarily solve every world problem but can lead to meaningful change. This is what we hope for this first time ownership program.
Home is where we start from – emotionally AND financially. We launched the Backwoods home ownership program to help give our people a better start.