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How to Attract and Retain Top Talent in Affordable Housing

Companies may consider the following four strategies for attracting and retaining top talent in the affordable housing industry.

Having access to safe affordable housing is an increasingly important issue across America and can significantly impact an individual’s overall wellbeing and success in life. According to a 2023 report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, “millions of households are now priced out of homeownership, grappling with housing cost burdens, or lacking shelter altogether.”

In fact, the number of housing-insecure renters is expected to increase by 1.3 million households—more than 10%—by 2025, according to Enterprise Community Partners and the Joint Center for Housing Studies.

As this issue remains a top priority in both the public and private sector, the affordable housing industry is ripe with opportunities to utilize strong analytical and problem-solving skills while making a difference in the communities where we live, work and play. In turn, it is imperative to allocate dedicated resources to offering competitive employment opportunities to help develop talented, passionate teams now and for the future. With this in mind, companies may consider the following four strategies for attracting and retaining top talent in the affordable housing industry.

1. Explore flexibility benefits.

According to Harvard Business Review, COVID-19 exacerbated stressors that impacted people’s lives, including in the workplace, which led to burnout—a combination of exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. The 2022-2023 Aflac WorkForces report identified that nearly 60% of American workers face at least moderate levels of burnout and found a direct connection between high levels of burnout and reduced job satisfaction and loyalty. The study also reported that 56% of employees believe their employer cares about them, and this feeling is strongest among those with a hybrid work arrangement (70%).

Flexibility can ease feelings of burnout among existing staff and act as a differentiator when attracting new talent. In addition, companies can support employee well-being by offering designated mental health days and floating holidays.

2. Empower employees with digital tools.

Digital tools and capabilities are key to ensuring business continuity, improving efficiency and delivering positive customer experiences. They can also be a potent employee attraction and engagement tool. According to Citrix, Gen Z and Millennials—the “Born Digital” cohort—currently account for the majority of the global workforce and, by 2035, will occupy most C-suite positions. This cohort has always used digital solutions for socializing and working and has higher technology expectations as employees. As such, they’re less willing to complete manual tasks that could be more proficiently accomplished via technology. Companies should use technology to harness their skills while also driving employee satisfaction.

Employers should consider hosting tech trainings and workshops to fill skills gaps and stay abreast of emerging digital tools. In doing so, they’ll foster a culture of continuous learning, reveal growth paths that help further careers and potentially increase retention. According to a LinkedIn report, organizations have an almost 7% higher retention rate at the three-year mark among employees who have acquired on-the-job skills. At the same time, providing the right automation tools for the job can pave the way for employees to do their best work, rather than spend time on manual tasks.

3. Commit to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

The affordable housing industry is a compelling career path for individuals driven by a sense of social responsibility, and young professionals are particularly invested in the stated missions of their employers. Increasingly, however, workers across all demographics expect companies to make visible commitments to combatting societal challenges, according to a 2021 Workforce Happiness Index.

For example, 78% of employees want to work for companies prioritizing DEI, and it’s essential to remember that employees’ perceptions of those efforts impact on-the-job satisfaction. Workers who don’t believe their company is doing enough to prioritize DEI have a Workforce Happiness Index score of 63, compared to a score of 75 among those who believe their employer is doing “about the right amount” of DEI work.

As DEI grows increasingly crucial to current and prospective employees, employers must take meaningful steps to build welcoming, diverse and safe workplaces. One way to start is by defining what DEI means in their company; aligning initiatives with core company values, vision and mission; and creating structures for accountability.

4. Support employees through all life stages.

While many companies have focused on the needs of Millennial and Gen Z workers, we should consider the changing needs of a maturing workforce as well. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age in the U.S. has climbed to 38.8, an increase of approximately 10 years since 1970. A recent Bank of America report on menopause in the workforce found that one-fifth of the workforce is in some phase of the menopause transition. Further, a Syndio report found that employees who are caregivers are the fastest growing category of employee identity groups—and a large number of those caregivers aren’t just raising children—they’re tending to elderly, sick or disabled family members. That means employees need a variety of emotional, physical and financial wellness resources and support for increasingly complex living situations. As workplaces, and our society, trend older, employers should review benefits packages to ensure they support employees through all stages of their lives.

A career in affordable housing allows individuals to grow their analytical, digital and technical skill sets while making a difference. It's a path for those who have a passion for promoting the quality and affordability of a city's housing, and individuals who are driven by social responsibility. By tackling hiring and retention challenges within the industry, employers can cultivate a talented team that will continue to build safer, more secure communities for future generations.

Maria Barry serves as community development banking national executive with Bank of America.

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