In an attempt to retain current employees and attract new ones, Citizens Trust Bank in Atlanta has added home down payments to its benefits menu.

Citizens is one of a dozen banks to implement the Employer Assisted Housing Program, created by Fannie Mae 10 years ago.

It “allows us to offer the dream of homeownership to our staff sooner than they originally would by providing them with a down payment through a forgivable loan,” said James Young, Citizens’ president and chief executive officer.

The $260 million-asset bank is offering a $3,000, interest-free loan to any employee seeking a down payment for a new home. The loan amount is reduced by 20% for each year of employment, which means the debt is forgiven if the employee remains at Citizens for five years.

Citizens’ Mortgage Services Inc. is participating in the program as a homeownership adviser to Citizens employees.

Mr. Young said 10 employees were immediately interested and that he expects more to take part in the program over time. Even if all 142 of employees used it, he said,, the retention upside would offset the program’s expense.

“One might look at it as a cost, but when one looks at the cost of employee turnover and recruitment, this is nothing,” he said.

Fannie Mae has made 3,100 loans in tandem with 200 companies through the Employer Assisted Housing Program, said Beth Marcus, Fannie Mae’s director of community-based lending.

It hopes to sign up 1,000 employers by 2010 with the help of its American Dream project and by offering employer-assisted housing to its business customers, which it plans to start doing soon.

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