Whether it’s part of a rewards program or a long-term benefit, housing perks are something employees buy into.Everyone loves prizes — particularly when those prizes include free housing for a year.

For the past seven years, Vancouver, Washington-based Vesta Hospitality has been running an associate of the month program called “Work Hard Live Free.”

Every month at each property of the hotel-management company, one employee is highlighted. At the end of the year, there’s a companywide party for program, in which one finalist is selected to win free housing for a year. 

Vesta Hospitality Chairman and CEO Rick Takach said the program began after noticing a disparity in the satisfaction between hourly employees and those in management positions.

“[The previous associate of the month program] needed some lift, so we started to think about how we could make it more impactful,” he said. There’s typically no cap on the program, Takach said.

“If somebody moves and their rent or mortgage is higher, we pay it. We’re not trying to penny pinch or anything, we’re trying to take care of everybody,” he said. “If you’re an hourly associate and all of a sudden your rent or mortgage is taken care of for a year, that’s a pretty big deal, and it seems to have gone over really well.”

Takach said the program has boosted morale and employee satisfaction among both hourly associates and those in management positions. 

“Management members are more involved than ever, and hourly employees are working harder than ever,” Takach said. “So the people who win this program are really our best.”

Although Takach said that Vesta does not intend to expand the housing reward as a regular benefit, success of this program is emblematic of a strategy that many organizations are undertaking to recruit and retain employees.

“A lot of employers are looking at housing as something to think about,” said Julie Stich, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. “Right now we are in a period of such low unemployment. So employers that have open positions are finding it challenging to find someone to fill them and bring the right skill sets, experience, attitude and enthusiasm. Employers are looking at all different types of things to offer other than just strictly wages.”

In places with more expensive housing markets like New York or California, housing benefits are a particularly useful tool. Facebook and Google have proposed building housing for their employees to eliminate the barrier of skyrocketing rents and sometimes hours-long commutes. 

And tech companies aren’t the only organizations that see the opportunities in housing benefits. Hospitals, universities and municipal governments also have programs that provide subsidized housing, forgivable loans and other housing-related perks to employees.

According to Stich, one of the most useful aspects of providing housing benefits could be in in recruiting and retaining younger employees for a longer period of time.

“In some respects, too, employers are doing this to help younger employees who may not have any credit history and are finding it challenging to get an affordable mortgage or haven’t had the time to amass a downpayment,” Stich said. “So those employees or even those with poor credit history will benefit.”