Bowdoin College’s new first-time homebuyers program, believed to be the first of its kind in Maine, is part of a trend of employers considering big perks to attract and retain employees in a challenging housing market. John Terhune/The Forecaster, file

Fernando Nascimento and his wife and daughter need to be out of their apartment by May 15. 

The Bowdoin College professor has dreamed of buying a house in Brunswick since the family first moved to Maine from Brazil almost seven years ago, but it hasn’t been feasible. With the state’s limited housing inventory – not to mention high demand, prices and interest rates – Nascimento, 48, had resigned himself to renting for a few more years while they continued to save. He was getting ready to send out emails to real estate agents for help looking for an apartment.

But this month, the small liberal arts college announced a new first-time homebuyers program for Bowdoin faculty and staff – a forgivable loan for up to 10% (capped at $50,000) of the purchase price on a home within 40 miles of the school’s campus. 

So now Nascimento’s plans have changed. He’ll still contact real estate agents, but now he has his sights set on home ownership.

“We are planning to buy something here in Brunswick,” he said. “Our life is structured around the college.”

The loan program, thought to be the first of its kind in Maine, is part of a growing trend as employers compete for workers in an increasingly tight job market.


Large employers like Amazon, Walmart, the University of Southern California and Johns Hopkins University are rolling out various home-boosting programs including plans to construct new units, provide mortgage assistance, down payment assistance and other loans and grants.

Locally, other businesses are trying to find creative solutions to the ongoing housing crisis as well. Last month, Saddleback unveiled its $10 million employee housing project for up to 80 seasonal employees. Sugarloaf has similar plans.

But Bowdoin’s solution is different, and MaineHousing officials say they haven’t seen other Maine employers taking this approach.

“The affordable housing crisis in Maine is particularly acute here in the Midcoast, and so the barrier to entry for new faculty and new staff that we hire is really high right now,” said Matt Orlando, senior vice president for finance and administration at Bowdoin. “It’s pretty stressful for folks looking to buy a home in the area.”

College officials hope the program will boost both attraction and retention efforts. It is designed for employees who have not owned a home within 40 miles of Brunswick in the last five years. Orlando acknowledged that proposition is expensive for employers, but to compete, they have to be able to offer incentives. He estimated that about 99% of the new faculty members they hire are from outside of the region.

Bowdoin has partnered with Bath Savings Institution and Kennebec Savings Bank to offer the loans, which are available to qualifying employees who close on a home between March 1, 2024, and Feb. 28, 2026.


The interest rate will be the long term Applicable Federal Rate at the time of closing, but both the interest and the principal are forgivable over the 10-year period. Each year, 10% of the loan will be forgiven. If the employee leaves the college before the 10-year loan term is up, the former employee is responsible for paying the annual principal and interest on the remainder of the loan.

Bowdoin has about 1,000 employees and Orlando anticipates about 20 will apply in the first year. There’s no hard cap on the number of people that can apply, but Orlando said the college has allocated about $1 million in its operating budget.

Nascimento, an assistant professor in the digital computational studies department, lived with his wife and daughter in Bowdoin’s faculty housing for several years after they arrived in 2017, but moved into a small apartment about a year ago.

The 25 units of faculty housing are immensely helpful for new arrivals, he said, but there isn’t a lot of help for how to transition from college-supported housing to home ownership, something that has become increasingly difficult. That’s where this program comes in.

The Nascimentos have been watching the housing market for two years, but their options were limited. They love the community, and their daughter, who is in junior high, is fully entrenched in the Brunswick school system. 

“We were looking for opportunities to buy in the region (but) the housing market is very complicated,” he said. “There are not many options; the prices are not very good.”


According to the Maine Association of Realtors, the median home price in Cumberland County is nearly $550,000. In neighboring Sagadahoc County, it’s about $400,000. That means that for families like Nascimento’s, even a 10% down payment is likely to cost at least $50,000.

Making the down payment can be one of the most challenging aspects for first-time home buyers, Orlando said. 

“Someone coming in as a tenure-track faculty member who’s just earned their Ph.D. or other credentials may not have accumulated a lot of savings,” he said. The loan can be used toward that down payment of closing costs as a way to give people as much of a “leg up” as possible.

Erik Jorgensen, senior director of government relations and communications at MaineHousing, applauded the program and its flexibility. Allowing the money to be used for a down payment and instituting a broad 40-mile radius provides more options for current and prospective employees, he said, noting that hubs like Portland, Lewiston/Auburn and Augusta are all on the table. 

“We hear again and again about people who are offered jobs who can’t find a place to live and so they leave,” he said. Or, they end up sleeping on friends’ couches during the week and going home on the weekends or commuting two hours each way. 

“Everyone’s talking about this problem,” he said. “I think what Bowdoin has done is really the first time I’ve seen a business looking at this issue of how do their employees afford to buy housing.” 


Of course, a person can be set up for success in the housing market but still not be successful. There’s simply too much competition for too few houses. 

A recent report from the state and MaineHousing found that the state needs to build up to 84,000 new homes by 2030 to accommodate its existing population and the people expected to move to Maine. The total number of homes in Maine – not just the number of new homes being built – needs to increase by about 11%.

“What we really need to do is create more housing. There’s no substitute for that,” Jorgensen said. 

But whatever employers like Bowdoin can do in the meantime to help alleviate some of the pressure felt by people in the housing market can only be a good thing. 

“It’s not something that every business can do,” he said, “but for those that can, this is a really great step.”

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