A lack of affordable housing is making it difficult for companies to hire and retain entry- and mid-level workers.

Fifty-five percent of large companies, those with 100-plus employees, reported a lack of affordable housing near their location, a 2007 survey by the Urban Land Institute revealed. Sixty-seven percent of the large firms that acknowledged a lack of affordable housing said the shortage is having a negative impact on retaining entry- and mid-level employees, and 58 percent reported losing employees at least in part to long commutes.

This can hit companies' bottom lines. One study estimated that turnover costs amount to between 30 percent and 50 percent of the annual salary of an entry-level employee and even higher for mid-level employees.

To help alleviate the shortage, many companies have launched employer-assisted housing programs.

CVS Caremark Corp. has helped 48 of its workers buy homes in Washington, D.C., and assisted another 10 in California. The company's Prescription for Homeownership program provides participating employees with a $500 grant toward a home purchase, and American First Credit Union offers a matching amount. Local churches offer homeownership education and financial counseling services. Freddie Mac and Bank of America have also participated in the efforts.

The program is a recruitment tool, giving the firm an advantage over its competitors, said Stephen Wing, CVS' director of workforce initiatives. CVS/pharmacy, the company's retail division, is one of the nation's largest pharmacies, with 6,300 retail locations.

“If employees are happy, they stay longer and move up the career path,” Wing said. “It's a good return on investment.”

Participants are asked to stay with the company for at least two years. No one has left the program, and there have been no foreclosures, according to Wing.

Headquartered in Woonsocket, R.I., CVS Caremark plans to expand Prescription for Homeownership to other locations this year.

The company was among 14 employers recently recognized by Homes for Working Families, a national nonprofit organization focused on improving home affordability for working families.