A leading employer of Indigenous workers is going one step further by offering help for employees to buy their first home.
Edmonton-based Backwoods Energy Services launched the new first-time homebuyers incentive program, which the company says is the first of its kind in Alberta.
Indigenous employees could receive up to $20,000 from the company for a down payment on a home, which can be combined with other first-time homebuyer incentives such as one offered by the federal government.
Backwoods president and CEO Paul Poscente said he wanted to offer something to his employees after hearing some didn’t have homes.
“I came to understand (there was) a systemic gap in the access to capital between our Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees,” he said. “I deeply understand what owning your own home can mean in terms of belonging and safety.
“I thought this was something we could actually impact for our Indigenous employees and at the same time, make it a kind of retention program for our great employees who have been with us for a while.”
Backwoods is one of the largest Indigenous-owned businesses in Canada and employs between 150 to 350 Indigenous employees depending on the season.
Backwoods’ program works in collaboration with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and First Nations Bank of Canada and includes online training and information for employees looking to purchase a home. Indigenous employees are required to complete the online training program, which is meant to help determine if it is the right time to purchase a home.
The company’s contribution is a one-time payment of 100 per cent of an employee’s RRSP for a maximum of $10,000. This can be combined with an employee tenure incentive of $2,000 per year for a maximum of $10,000. All Indigenous employees who have been with the company for at least six months are eligible to apply to the program.
Poscente said the firm has received positive feedback since announcing the program.
“There’s a lot of questions around how to qualify and what to do,” he said. “There’s a large level of excitement. We have a dedicated Indigenous employment person who is walking through all the interested employees.”
Backwoods is a service provider for utilities, forestry and oil and gas and operates across western Canada. The Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation acquired the company in 2015.