About Tamara Small

Tamara Small is the CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts.

The Time to Act on the Housing Crisis is Now

This post was originally published as an op-ed in Banker & Tradesman on 3/17/19.

Apartment-InteriorSometimes data can simplify even the most emotionally charged and complicated policy debates. Housing policy is no exception to this rule. Recent data may provide some clarity on how we got to where we are today, as well as how we can begin to address the current housing crisis 

Today there are more people working in Massachusetts than at any other time in the commonwealth’s history. According to the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Instituteby the year 2040 the Massachusetts population is projected to increase by 600,000, with the fastest increase projected in Greater Boston’s inner core. Boston’s population is growing more quickly than previously expected, with 759,000 residents expected to live in Boston by 2030.  

As a result, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) projects Eastern Massachusetts will need 435,000 new units of housing by 2040However, according to the Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s Center for Housing Data, annual housing production is only about half of what it was in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Massachusetts permitting is 36 percent less housing than the national average (based on new housing per capita), ranking us 38th in the nation 

Words Not Enough to Address Crisis 

At the current pace of housing construction, the commonwealth will be more than 90,000 units short of demand by 2030  

At the same time, permitting requirements have become more onerous with local rules and special bylaws, making the development process longer and more unpredictable. Appeals frequently delay the start of a project by one to two years or often kill the project altogether. To complicate matters, construction inflation is at 6.5 percent in the Boston market – higher than the rest of the nation.  

The lack of housing is now approaching crisis level. The number of communities with median prices above $1 million has doubled in the past decade. As a result, the shortage of workforce housing is now significant threat to our economic growth. Business leaders frequently struggle to attract the best talent when competing with other states that provide more affordable housing opportunities.   

While tackling this issue will require a multi-pronged approach, the data show that this is, in large part, a supply and demand issue. Without more housing production it is becoming very clear that the state’s potential to grow its skilled workforce will be at risk.  

Many Massachusetts communities are now recognizing, some for the first time, they need to do more to encourage growth. The 15 members of the Metro Mayors Coalition late last year announced a target to create 185,000 new housing units across the region by the year 2030. It is a laudable goal and these communities should be applauded for their leadership. However, simply saying you want housing does not create itActionable steps are needed to achieve this goal.   

Fortunately, An Act to Promote Housing Choices (House Bill 3507), recently filed by Gov. Charlie Baker, provides a clear framework for cities and town to encourage new housing production.   

 Bill Helps Communities That Want to Change 

The legislation, which is supported by a broad coalition including the Massachusetts Municipal Association, NAIOP – The Commercial Real Estate Development Association and the Smart Growth Alliance, among others, makes it easier for communities to work with developers to encourage sustainable growth.   

The legislation allows cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority. This would be allowed in situations where the zoning change will encourage more concentrated development including the adoption of 40R “Smart Growth” districts or starter homes, reduced parking requirements, accessory dwelling units and/or reduced minimum lot sizes.  

This legislation also includes a provision, added during the last legislative session by the Joint Committee on Housing, that would reduce the voting threshold for a local special permit to a simple majority. This would apply to multifamily or mixed-use projects with at least 10 percent affordable units that are near transit or in commercial centers.  

While there is no one silver bullet to solving the housing crisis, the supermajority threshold has long been a barrier for needed housing developments throughout the commonwealthThis legislation would make it easier for communities to rezone property to encourage more housing production  

During the legislative session that concluded in July 2018, the bill came close, but did not pass.  Since then, housing advocates, planners, developers and municipal officials have come together to support the passage of this legislation. On behalf of this remarkable coalition, we urge the legislature to pass this bill as quickly as possible. The time for action is now.  

It Has Been An Enjoyable and Satisfying Career Advocating for the CRE Industry!

The following is an excerpt from the acceptance speech I gave for the Edward H. Linde Public Service Award at the recent NAIOP Distinguished Real Estate Awards event. It summarizes the feelings I have about leaving NAIOP after 28 years as its CEO.

A way to judge any organization is to contemplate whether it would be missed.  When I consider what we have accomplished over these past 28 years, I know that all of you in the commercial real estate industry would agree that what we have done on your behalf, and for the Commonwealth, is remarkable.  Please note that I say “we” for very important reasons.

It certainly starts with a top professional staff, with Debbie Osheroff, Rachel Meyer and Taylor Pederson. In addition, there are two exceptional professionals who are now stepping into new leadership roles, Tamara Small & Reesa Fischer. I have tremendous confidence in both of them and I know they will take this organization onto even greater successes. They are all-stars who have earned the respect of their peers, the industry’s leaders, and the greater community.

But our success goes beyond our excellent staff. NAIOP’s unique entrepreneurial DNA has driven its Advocacy, Education, and Networking. And that is a direct result of our engagement with an extensive network of exceptional volunteers, what I call NAIOP’s very “special sauce”. We have been fortunate to have some of the best and brightest professionals in our industry giving their time, knowledge and experience. That includes all of our past Presidents, Board members, executive committee members, and numerous volunteers on our operating committees.

In particular, I would be remiss if I did not call out the Governmental Affairs Committee. Our influence in the legislature, regulatory agencies, policy centers and the courts has been achieved directly through the active commitment of so many members over the past 30 years. They have helped draft bills that became law, offered comments on regulations that were then revised, produced position papers that helped direct policies, and presented amicus briefs that helped guide court decisions.

I am so proud to have worked with these professionals to impact major legislative initiatives, including drafting the District Improvement Financing statute, initiating the effort for the Permit Extension Act, partnering in the passage of the Brownfields Act, and influencing so many areas of regulatory oversight. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, we have also committed to continue focusing on three important issues: Transportation, Housing, & Climate Change.

I also want to thank and recognize the many business association leaders that we have worked with over these many years. To have the kind of successes we have enjoyed only comes with active collaborative partnerships. No one organization can succeed without the give and take of working together with a common agenda – a better Commonwealth.

It has been a true labor of love to lead this organization. I have enjoyed the challenges, the successes, and the many close friendships I have made along the way. I am also very proud of the impacts we have had over the years.

Back in 1991, as I transitioned to the advocacy role from being a developer, I anticipated a relatively short interlude in my career. It clearly was not short. Developers have a vision and an optimism that is critical to producing a successful project. I always tried to maintain both as I led this organization over the years.

As I now turn to my next chapter professionally, I know that I will remain active in advocating for the same big issues that continue to challenge our Commonwealth. However, whatever direction I do go, I will look forward to enjoying all the close relationships I have developed through the years and the knowledge that the future for our industry and NAIOP will be bright.

Once again, thank you so much for the privilege of serving this industry.

My Top Ten Predictions for 2019

2019Here are my last predictions as CEO of NAIOP (but not my last predictions)!

  1. Wayfair will double their occupancy in Boston.
  2. Boston and Cambridge Office rental rates will rise to record levels for new space surpassing $120 psf.
  3. Apartment rental rates will be flat.
  4. WeWork will make a move to the suburbs.
  5. Electric bikes & scooters will be allowed in Boston (and then regretted).
  6. Bitcoin value will fall, other Cryptocurrencies will rise.
  7. Foreign investment in commercial real estate will drop.
  8. The stock market will hit an all time low and an all time high.
  9. The Fed will raise rates ¼% only once during the next year.
  10. Tiger Woods will win a major.

Below were my predictions for 2018. Not too bad!
1. Amazon will pass on Boston for a campus, but leave us with a great consolation prize. [Yes and 1mm sq. ft coming to the Seaport]
2. No Turnpike air rights project will start construction (ditto for 2019). [None, so far]
3. Fed. interest rates will be up 75 basis points by end of year. [50 basis points]
4. In Boston, more condos will be permitted than rental apartments (other than the neighborhoods). [Rental approved by BPDA: 33%/Condo: 67%]
5. An office or lab lease will hit $100 per square foot in Cambridge. [Boeing office, 314 Main St.: $106.63 Net effective rent]
6. Construction costs, on average, will be up 7%. [ to date, 6-7%]
7. More than one million SF of commercial space will commence on spec. [Office: Boston & Cambridge: 1,008,000 SF; Lab: Boston & Cambridge: 1,226,000 SF]
8. The 128 office market will show more transactions (both numbers and SF) than the downtown market. [Downtown wins]
9. Foreign buyers will begin to acquire major CRE property outside of Boston/Cambridge. [No]
10. And, yes, the Patriots will do it again. [Almost!]

Luxury Residence Report Misses the Mark

A report was recently issued from the Institute for Policy Studies that has attracted significant media coverage and editorials from virtually all of the local print and broadcast outlets.

Elisif_20161213_5514.jpgCredit: Elisif Brandon

It’s a great story: the ultra-rich, international money launderers have descended on the Boston real estate scene, crowding out poor and middle-class residents.

However, when you go beyond the buzz and dig into the content of the report, there is much to question. The report implies that owning condos through a trust or LLC is done to hide the owner’s identity. This form of ownership is actually a very common practice for tax, estate, and transactional reasons. Furthermore, while some buyers may choose to remain anonymous, it’s rather uncommon and to imply that anyone who does this is somehow laundering money is factually incorrect.

If these higher priced apartments or condos were not built, middle income apartments would not be replacing them — the economics just do not work with the current high construction costs. Furthermore, these buildings are already paying a tax devoted to the production of affordable housing, with a requirement to provide for at least 15 percent of the units built on site as affordable or a fee to produce those units off site. In addition, the city’s office buildings must also pay a “linkage fee” for affordable housing and workforce training.

Virtually all of these new developments are built on vacant land or in commercial areas where there had not been any housing, so they have not displaced existing residents. In fact, many of these developments have been the catalyst to creating new 24/7 neighborhoods.

If these condo owners are not here full-time to justify a residential tax break, so what? Do we want to discourage retirees living in Florida from living here for six months? Do we want to tell the penthouse owner, Michael Dell, to take a hike and take his jobs with him? I don’t think so.

The real issue is that it will take federal and state resources, communities working with developers, and overcoming NIMBY-ism and fear of affordable housing at the local level to truly address this housing crisis. Rather than drawing false conclusions and creating easy scapegoats, it’s time we all come together to find economically feasible solutions.

This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal on September 20, 2018, as written by NAIOP Massachusetts CEO David Begelfer.

 

20 years later, Brownfields Act remains a pioneering policy

This op-ed originally appeared in Viewpoint on bizjournals.com on September 13, 2018. The joint op-ed was authored by Ned Abelson, attorney at Goulston & Storrs and co-chair of the NAIOP Brownfields Committee, and by David Begelfer, NAIOP Massachusetts CEO and an active participant in the passage of the Brownfields Act. 

Twenty years ago this summer, Gov. Paul Cellucci signed into law the “Brownfields Act,” establishing new incentives and protections to encourage parties to clean up and redevelop contaminated property in Massachusetts. This law provides comprehensive liability relief and financial incentives to attract new investment in these properties while ensuring a safe and effective cleanup. Simply put, without the passage of the Brownfields Act, many communities that are now thriving would be filled with vacant and contaminated properties.

Suburban Office Park

A Brownfield site is blocked from productive use because of potentially hazardous contaminants. Prior to the passage of this law, developers considering cleaning up and then redeveloping such a property often concluded the effort was simply too risky, too expensive and too time-consuming to offset future profits from leasing the property to retailers, businesses and residents.

A model for states across the country, the Brownfields Act allows innocent Massachusetts real estate owners and operators to apply to the Department of Revenue for a state income tax credit to offset the net cost of the cleanup. Any party that contaminated a property or owned the property at the time of contamination is not eligible for the tax credit. Depending on the extent of the completed cleanup, the taxpayer may apply for a credit equal to either 25 percent or 50 percent of the cleanup cost. If the site has an Activity and Use Limitation, or AUL — typically a use restriction placed on title as part of the cleanup process — then a 25 percent credit would apply; if no AUL, then eligibility increases to 50 percent. Without this tax credit, many contaminated properties would remain a public health risk and there would be no incentive to clean up and return these sites to productive use.

The credits have provided critical additional funding for community development corporations, or CDCs, and other community-based organizations. And a change to the law in 2006 has helped nonprofit organizations, which were previously not able to use all of their credits, to sell or transfer the credits to others. In recent years, the state Department of Revenue has distributed between $28 million and $61 million annually in Brownfields tax credits, benefitting between 40 and 80 development projects each year.

The Brownfields Act was created through a unique collaboration of Massachusetts policymakers and a truly diverse set of stakeholders. Developers, town officials, environmentalists, business association representatives, scientists and many others spent hundreds of hours negotiating the details of this landmark legislation.

For Massachusetts residents and businesses, the benefits have been significant. By cleaning up these sites, public health conditions improved, local communities were revitalized, housing was built in vacant areas, new jobs were created, and municipal real estate tax revenue grew. For developers and their partners in engineering, construction and architecture, redeveloping a former industrial site no longer posed a financial or legal death sentence.

For a very modest investment by the commonwealth, billions of dollars of investments have been made throughout the state, benefitting its citizens and municipalities. We commend the Legislature’s work this session to provide for a five-year extension of the Brownfields tax credit in the Housing Bond bill, signed by Gov. Baker on May 31. Twenty years later, the Brownfields Act’s approach to economic development and public health policy continues to be bipartisan, beneficial, bold and, most important, very successful.

 

My Top Ten Predictions for 2018

2018 image

The CRE industry kept smiling through 2017! Is anyone talking about innings anymore? We just keep doing deals.

So, here are my predictions for the coming year:
1. Amazon will pass on Boston for a campus, but leave us with a great consolation prize.
2. No Turnpike air rights project will start construction (ditto for 2019).
3. Fed. interest rates will be up 75 basis points by end of year.
4. In Boston, more condos will be permitted than rental apartments (other than the neighborhoods).
5. An office or lab lease will hit $100 per square foot in Cambridge.
6. Construction costs, on average, will be up 7%.
7. More than one million SF of commercial space will commence on spec.
8. The 128 office market will show more transactions (both numbers and SF) than the downtown market.
9. Foreign buyers will begin to acquire major CRE property outside of Boston/Cambridge.
10. And, yes, the Patriots will do it again.

Below were my predictions for 2017. Not the best batting average, but here is to a New Year!
1. Cap rates will finally start to rise in the Boston/Cambridge markets.
2. A new Fortune 500 corporate HQ will relocate to Boston.
3. Apartment construction starts will drop in downtown Boston.
4. The Dow Jones Industrial Average will finish the year down.
5. Fed interest rates will be raised twice.
6. Foreign investment will increase as a percentage of total CRE sales in Boston.
7. There will be a noticeable business migration from 495 to 128, 128 to Boston, and Cambridge to Boston.
8. Drones will pilot consumer product delivery.
9. An infrastructure bill will pass Congress and be signed by the President.
10. No viable candidate will step forward to run against Mayor Walsh.

A Note of Economic Optimism

MassBenchmarks Current Economic Index, was recently released by MassBenchmarks, the journal of the Massachusetts economy published by the UMass Donahue Institute in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The bottom line is very positive with our local growth projected to continue.

Some highlights:

  • Massachusetts real gross domestic product grew 5.9% in the third quarter of 2017 (vs. nationally at 3.0%).
  • The Commonwealth exhibited very strong employment and earnings growth during the third quarter.
  • Payroll employment grew at a 2.1% annual rate in Massachusetts in the third quarter.
  • Wage and salary income in Massachusetts grew at a very robust 10.5% annual rate (vs. 3.8% growth for the nation).
  • Wage and salary income grew 5.8 percent year over year in the Bay State, significantly stronger than the estimated 2.7 percent growth for the nation.
  • “Labor markets appear to be nearly back to full employment levels,” noted Alan Clayton-Matthews, MassBenchmarks Senior Contributing Editor and Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Northeastern University.
  • “Despite these low unemployment rates and anecdotes about a shortage of workers, employment growth continues unabated without clear signs of wage rate pressures. However, It may be that the rapid growth in wage and salary income in Massachusetts is signaling the beginning of an acceleration in wage rates, but it’s too early to tell.
  • As measured by regular sales tax receipts and motor vehicle sales taxes, spending in the state has been surprisingly weak given strong income growth and the surging stock market.
  • Spending on taxable items declined in the third quarter by 3.3%. Year over year, this spending grew by a relatively paltry 1.7% between the third quarter of 2016 and the third quarter of 2017.
  • The MassBenchmarks Leading Economic Index shows that the state’s economy is expected to continue to grow at a moderately robust pace.

Being cautious is a prudent business characteristic these days, but the data still shows a healthy Massachusetts economy.