Housing Costs May Cost Us Our Young Talent

This post originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal on November 20, 2015.

ApartmentsIn the coming years, the Massachusetts economy may be at serious risk. The Commonwealth’s most valuable resource is its educated, skilled talent. Maintaining that resource is essential for continued economic growth. However, there is a threat which is making that goal harder and harder to achieve. Massachusetts has one of the highest housing costs in the nation – a significant barrier for talent recruitment and retention. Without an adequate supply of workforce housing, Massachusetts may soon lose that talent to other, more affordable, markets.

The UMass Donahue Institute’s Population Estimates Program concluded that the state’s population will increase by nearly 300,000 over a 20-year period. Good news, but the population of Massachusetts grew only by 3.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, while the U.S. population increased by 9.7 percent. Of concern, the study also projects an increasingly older population for the state.

Though a good portion of Massachusetts’ growth is driven by a net natural increase (number of births greater than deaths), a larger share of the growth is attributed to net immigration. Looking more closely, there is a net domestic outflow of residents (more people moved out of Massachusetts than into it from other parts of the U.S.), offset by a large number of international immigrants.

This is occurring during a boom time for the Greater Boston region, while the rest of the country, with a few exceptions, is still working its way out of the recession. Another way of looking at it is that, for the past few years, there have not been many job opportunities attracting our younger workers away from the state.

It was not that long ago that most of the country was experiencing stronger job growth than Massachusetts. As documented in a 2003 University of Massachusetts/MassINC report, Mass. Migration, over 200,000 more domestic residents moved out of Massachusetts than moved into the state between 1990 and 2002. And then, between 2002 and 2004, that imbalance became worse.

Fortunately, at that time, foreign immigrants helped to offset these population losses, but they frequently arrived with lower levels of education and skills than those who were leaving. Those departing tended to be younger, better educated, and more likely to be employed in a knowledge-intensive industry.

These trends will have substantial workforce and business implications and should be a call to action. The costs of both rental and for sale housing have been accelerating, reaching record highs. More and more young individuals and families are being priced out of the market. In some cases, the problem is restrictive zoning, other municipalities are shunning any housing that increases the school population, and in some markets, the cost of construction makes workforce housing uneconomical.

The solutions may be difficult, political, and costly, but without action at the state and local levels, the future of the Massachusetts economy is at risk.

Good to Great: Creating Workforce Housing

BakerPolitoCoverThe following is our weekly excerpt from NAIOP’s report, Good to Great: Recommendations for the Baker Polito Administration. The report is the result of significant input from NAIOP members and focuses on a wide range of ideas – big and small – affecting the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development (EOHED), the Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) and transportation (MassDOT). Each week will cover a different recommendation. Comments are encouraged!

EOHED: Creating Workforce Housing

The Commonwealth’s economy depends on its ability to attract and retain a talented workforce. Massachusetts has one of the highest housing costs in the nation – a significant barrier for talent recruitment and retention. This is a supply problem due, in part, to a shortage of single family and multi-family housing. Lengthy and unpredictable local permitting, combined with high land and construction labor costs, put new housing out of reach of many of the state’s working families.

Massachusetts communities have some of the strictest zoning in the region, with large minimum lot sizes, restrictions limiting multi-family housing, and unworkable cluster zoning ordinances. Communities have tightened permitting, making it harder to build and meet the demand for housing, in general, and moderately priced and affordable units, in particular. Zoning requirements have become more onerous with local rules and special by-laws, making the development process longer and more unpredictable. Currently, there is a serious lack of permits issued for housing for families.

Therefore, NAIOP suggests that the Baker Polito Administration and EOHED work to increase the production of a wide range of housing types through the implementation of a plan that allows for the construction of family-friendly apartment housing as well as smaller, denser, affordable, single family starter homes. The plan should eliminate barriers to housing production and provide new ways of meeting the existing need for workforce housing by addressing the following (among other things):

  • Expand Chapter 40S to Address School Budget Challenges: The most frequent argument used to oppose apartment construction is the burden it will put on local school budgets. That is not always the case. Although Chapter 40S has been adopted to help offset the cost of student education for projects developed under Chapter 40R, it should be expanded to incentivize and assist those communities that would substantially increase their school-age population through new housing development of any kind. An important place to start would be to include Ch. 40B projects under this school “reimbursement” program, removing one of the objections to affordable housing projects.
  • Encourage Production of Starter Homes: There is a serious lack of moderately priced single family homes (starter homes) for many working households. A goal should be set to encourage cities and towns to establish zoning districts that permit the construction of a modest number of small, single family homes that are affordable for middle-income families. “Starter Home” zoning districts could be established in the most appropriate locations for these new neighborhoods. Incentives could include qualifying for Chapter 40S funds, assistance grants, and an increase in local aid. To keep the land cost per unit down, density bonuses would be needed for this type of housing, with the requirement that the scale of the homes be smaller (e.g. 1,500 square feet.)

Where is Housing for the Middle Income Family?

Thomas Grillo did an excellent job on BBJ’s recent article, “The story behind Greater Boston’s housing bottleneck”.

As rightly pointed out, communities have tightened permitting, making it harder to build and meet the demand for housing in general, and moderately priced and affordable units in particular. Zoning requirements have become more onerous with local rules and special by-laws, making the development process longer and more unpredictable. Interestingly, the municipalities and planners are crying out that they do not have enough control and want new land use reforms. However, there is currently a serious lack of permits issued for housing for families and these changes would actually hinder the production of reasonably priced housing.

Many communities have some of the strictest zoning in the region, with large minimum lot sizes, restrictions limiting multi-family housing, and unworkable cluster zoning ordinances. Opportunities for young families to rent a moderately price apartment or find a reasonably priced starter home is virtually impossible. The Massachusetts economy cannot fully expand without the support of its highly talented college graduates. Unfortunately, as the recovery continues nationally, local business leaders are finding it more difficult to attract the best talent when competing with other states. Economic development professionals across the country are already starting to attract young families out of our region and into areas that are more affordable, leaving us, yet again, with the risk of a declining skilled workforce.

The strangest trend to occur in housing production is that children have become society’s “toxic waste”! Many housing proposals that would attract families with school age kids are denied at the local level. More and more municipalities are fighting the permitting of three or four bedroom apartment units, or even requiring 55 and older residency age restrictions. If it appears that developments will bring children into the community, they are fought aggressively by the local boards. Even towns where the school populations are predicted to decline are reluctant to allow apartments that accommodate two or more children.

We are losing our 25 to 34 year olds at a faster clip than we are growing our total population. Our future is our young families and their children. Once and for all, we need to develop a serious policy that allows for the construction of family-friendly apartment housing and of smaller, denser, affordable, single family starter homes.

The future of our economy and our workforce depends on it.

Zoning Legislation Will Hinder Housing Production In Massachusetts

In response to the June 2, 2014 Boston Globe editorial, “Sprawl takes a fall?,” NAIOP Massachusetts submitted the following Letter to the Editor: 

A recent Boston Globe editorial titled “Sprawl takes a fall?” urges the Legislature to pass zoning legislation with the incorrect assumption that the bill will result in the production of more reasonably priced housing. Unfortunately, the legislation would actually hinder, not encourage, the production of this much needed housing.

The bill makes a number of changes to the zoning law, Chapter 40A, which would apply statewide. However, many of the other changes would apply only in “opt-in” communities.  Key parts of the bill would limit predictability and add financial risks for expanding businesses in the Commonwealth. For these reasons, all of the industry trade groups in the state representing builders and developers strongly oppose this legislation.

The lack of workforce housing is a barrier to economic growth, limiting the ability of business leaders to attract the best talent when competing with other states with lower costs of living. Instead of passing this very problematic bill, we urge the Legislature to work with the Administration, municipalities and the business community to create a new program that truly encourages the production of denser and more affordable housing.

David I. Begelfer
CEO
NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association

 

The Changing Face of Downtown Boston

The following blog post was submitted by Ally Quinby, Account Executive at Solomon McCown.

Real estate professionals gathered last week to discuss the significant transformation happening in our city’s core. The office, retail and residential sectors are all growing and working together to create a true 24/7, live, work, play environment in downtown Boston.

Even with the boom in the Seaport, Downtown is seeing an influx of new office tenants who want to be in the heart of the city. David Greaney of Synergy Investments told us that of the 70 leases his firm has completed this year, 59 of them were located downtown. And these tenants are looking at more than just the office space. Mark Smith said that Equity includes the amenities of the surrounding area on tours with potential tenants. He also told the room that tenants want comfortable, communicative environments.

All these companies have employees who want to be within walking distance of work. Despite the thousands of apartment units that are planned and currently being constructed, Bill McLaughlin of AvalonBay Communities said that the demand is there because young people aspire to live in the city; we are well-positioned to absorb the deliveries we will see in the next five to six years.

Retail is growing too. Andrea Matteson of CBRE/Grossman Retail Advisors highlighted Walgreens, Equinox, Scholars and the coming Legal Seafoods as game changers who have helped Downtown Crossing look better than ever. She said that first floor tenants are key in providing character for downtown buildings.

Foreign investment and continued development make Boston one of the U.S.’s most dynamic cities, and our panelists agreed that downtown is going to be an integral part of Boston’s growth in the coming years.

2013 Bus Tour Recap: The Suburban Transformation

The following blog post was submitted by David Fleming, Principal at PACE Communications Group, a marketing and PR firm that specializes in commercial real estate and retail.Elisif_20130501_0150

Three signs that spring has finally arrived in Boston: 1) green grass on the Esplanade, 2) the Red Sox back at Fenway Park, and 3) NAIOP MA’s Annual Bus Tour. The 11th edition of the tour took place on Wednesday as more than 250 people aboard five buses toured properties along what is suddenly one of the hottest stretches in commercial real estate in the region: the Route 128 Corridor from Needham to Lynnfield. Here’s a summary:

Elisif_20130501_0115Kickoff at Needham Crossing

  • Needham’s Economic Development Director Devra Bailin, discussed efforts to rebrand the former New England Business Center as Needham Crossing
  • Justin Krebs and Mark Roopenian described two of Normandy Real Estate Partners’ projects along the route:
    • Center 128, which will redevelop Needham’s former New England Business Center into an 825,000-square-foot “super-park,” including a Marriott Residence Inn Hotel
    • Station at Riverside, which will transform MBTA’s Riverside Station into a mixed-use development featuring 295 apartments, a 10-story 225,000 square foot office building, and a 20,000 square foot retail village
    • Mike Wilcox of The Bulfinch Companies discussed development at Needham Crossing and the branding and leasing efforts at Atrium Center. Wilcox concluded with an exciting Atrium Center video that you can see here.
    • In his market overview, Jeremy Grossman of CBRE/Grossman Retail Advisors noted the “flight to quality” among retailers, New Urbanism, the continued expansion of restaurants, the intensifying battle among grocers, and the strengthening of regional markets such as Chestnut Hill, Lynnfield, and Northborough as key trends

Elisif_20130501_0215Bus Tour Highlights

Six tour buses, escorted by members of the MA State Police, traveled along Route 128 beginning in the Needham/Newton area and ending in Lynnfield. Here are a few highlights:

 

Elisif_20130501_0268Lunch and Learn at MarketStreet Lynnfield

The tour stopped in Lynnfield for lunch at MarketStreet Lynnfield, a 680,000 square foot mixed-use development currently under construction. Inside a space that will become a Shoe Market store, WS Development’s Tom DeSimone and National Development’s Ted Tye shared details of the joint venture scheduled to open in August 2013.

When complete, MarketStreet Lynnfield will include 395,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 80,000 square feet of office space, 180 residential apartments known as Arborpoint at MarketStreet, and the 9-hole King Rail Reserve golf course.

Elisif_20130501_0282Voices on Tour

I caught up with a few people on tour. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Tom DeSimone, partner, WS Development: “There’s no better way to understand real estate than to actually be there. The NAIOP Bus Tour gets you closer to the real estate by providing an introduction. Then you can go back and look at whatever may have peaked your interest.”
  • Ted Tye, managing partner, National Development: “It’s great to people out here having a nice day, getting out from behind their desks, and seeing some projects that are being built. And, it’s incredible that in 2013 that we actually have things being built.”
  • David Chilinski, co-founder and president, PCA: “The best part of the NAIOP Bus Tour is that you really get a sense of what’s happening and, importantly, what’s new in the marketplace.  We all know the tried and true properties, but the tour lets you see new projects as well as cases where people are reinventing or adding to projects. That’s the importance of this tour.”
  • Sarah Walker Weatherbee, managing director, Keller Augusta: “You get a sense of history as well as what the future holds for the Boston-area markets like the ones we saw today. And, the networking that the Bus Tour enables is unique to NAIOP—that really makes the day exceptional.”


While here, please read David’s important post below about National Development’s Roseann Sdoia, who was seriously injured in the Boston Marathon bombings. David includes a link to
Roseann’s Recovery Fund for those who wish to donate toward expenses for Roseann’s treatment and recovery.

Grim Optimism for Real Estate and the Economy

Goodwin Procter’s Real Estate Capital Markets Conference was recently held in New York City in partnership with Columbia Business School.  GP-REConferenceAn exceptional group of speakers discussed the real estate markets, investments, and the economy.

The keynote presentation was delivered by Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, and now a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Goolsbee spoke with “grim optimism” about the US economy.  The US has the most productive work force in the world and low energy and new-energy sources will benefit our growth.  Relative to the rest of the world, our fiscal imbalance is manageable. All in all, he believes that the next six to twelve months will be a bumpy ride, but prospects in the long-run look good.

The following are a few interesting observations made during the panel discussions:

  • Demographics are playing a key role internationally, especially in the US. Effects of this will be seen in an increased demand for apartments, senior housing, and retail.
  • With accounting standards likely to change in the future, as relating to corporate leasing and ownership, more businesses will likely choose owning large amounts of their space.
  • Retail sales continue to be impacted by online competition, but retail is still a growing market. The future may move towards more hybrids that have both online and storefront locations.
  • Office space needs are dropping in terms of space requirements per new job. However, there is a sense that over time businesses will start to swing back towards a need for greater space.
  • Multifamily housing rents are back to pre-recession highs and it is likely that rents will experience slower growth going forward.
  • Record amounts of capital were raised both in the public and private markets last year. With less growth worldwide, real estate is very attractive to investors.  Investor interest is focused on yields and risk management. Where in the past, “cash is king”, now, “cash flow is king”.
  • Rates should not be rising in the short term, but that is a big risk for all asset classes. The markets could wake up to a starting spike in rates that, in hindsight, will have seemed inevitable.