COVID-19 Shows Value of Collaboration and Local Leadership Massachusetts Has Come Together with Kindness and Common Purpose

By Tamara Small

This column first appeared in Banker and Tradesman on Apr 5, 2020

Uncharted territory. Those are the two words that seem to be used when anyone tries to describe our current COVID-19 world. Children are out of school, entire economic sectors have been decimated, the global and local economy is in freefall – and the end is unknown.   

As the unemployment numbers skyrocket and the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to grow, it is difficult to find any positive news. However, here at NAIOP we’ve seen several local examples that we should all acknowledge and applaud.  

Public and PrivateSector Collaboration  

In Massachusetts, this pandemic is exposing the grace of who we are, as residents and businesses stand strong in the fight to save lives. We see this with the establishment of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Emergency Supply Hub. As it quickly became clear that demand was outpacing supply at many healthcare institutions, the private sector stepped up.  

The Massachusetts Biotech Council, Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals and Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council came together, launching the Supply Hub to bring additional supplies and resources to our state’s healthcare institutions so they could continue to test and treat patients with COVID-19 safely.  

In response to the call for donations, hundreds of companies from a wide range of sectors including janitorial companies, colleges, and construction firms stepped up to donate everything from masks and goggles to swabs and tubes. While we still have not caught up with demand, this effort made a dramatic impact and provided a streamlined way for businesses throughout the commonwealth to supplement the local and national supply chain. 

In another extraordinary example of community solidarity, the Boston Society of Architects has begun soliciting nominations for buildings, facilities or infrastructure that may be adapted to become alternative hospital sites. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health  has issued guidance to permit the use of alternative, acute inpatient care spaces to care for patients during this public health emergency. Working with cross disciple teams, the architecture, engineering and construction community is working with property owners to assist state government officials with identifying, evaluating, documenting, and retrofitting buildings or other facilities identified as viable hospital facilities. Preparing for the worst is an essential part of crisis planning – this work will save lives. 

Legislative Compromise  

The closure of non-essential businesses and the shutdown of most aspects of society have resulted in the need for executive orders and emergency legislation on a wide range of issues. Municipal governments have been particularly challenged since town halls are shuttered, Town Meetings are delayed, and annual budgets are uncertain at best. For real estate developers, navigating the permitting maze at the local level became more challenging as the permit application process, deadlines, and hearings became unclear.  

Responding to this new challenge, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, The Home Builders & Remodelers Association of MA and NAIOP Massachusetts – The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, worked together, drafting language that gave predictability and protections to municipalities and developers. As of this writing, the language, which is included in An Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19, was passed by the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by Gov. Charlie Baker. 

Every day is a step forward, navigating a difficult path. As Massachusetts, and the world, continue to operate in today’s reality, it is important to remember that we are all in this together. 

This legislation provides necessary relief to cities and towns that, due to disruptions caused by the state of emergency, are struggling to process and hear permitting applications. At the same time, the bill balances the needs of residents and developers by ensuring that current permits are not impaired by the emergency declaration. No town or developer wants to see a project that has received local approvals become a blighted, abandoned site, and this language ensures that projects can get up and going as soon as this crisis ends.   

Examples of Leadership 

Finally, Gov. Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, legislators and all the hardworking staff who support them must be recognized. They have focused on protecting the most at-risk residents, addressed business, health and public safety challenges and provided comfort during this unprecedented time.  

Throughout the commonwealth, we have seen local community leaders follow this example. From local food banks to neighborhood groups, we have seen unprecedented kindness and grace as everyone works together to flatten the curve and save lives. Restaurants are providing free meals for students in need, essential grocery store workers are keeping our food systems open and, last but certainly not least, every person working in the health care sector is working tirelessly to save lives.  

Every day is a step forward, navigating a difficult path. As Massachusetts, and the world, continue to operate in today’s reality, it is important to remember that we are all in this together. As a former governor of Massachusetts once said, let our first instinct be kindness – and as Mayor Walsh said during his address to the city, there’s nothing we can’t do when we stand together. 

COVID-19 Update: FAQ on Construction Shutdown, Update on Federal Programs & Resources for CRE

Shutdown of Non-Essential Construction – FAQ Updated As we shared on Tuesday, the Baker-Polito Administration updated the construction related guidance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new guidance limits “essential” construction to housing and critical infrastructure activities. Under the revised list, private nonresidential construction is not considered essential (unless it falls within one of the specified exemptions). As of noon, April 1, only housing projects (including mixed use with housing), infrastructure, public works projects and construction related to COVID-19 can proceed. The state understands the need to wind down and provide security at an uncompleted project. A minimal crew for security is permissible under the following categories of essential service: 1) Security staff to maintain building access control and physical security measures and 2) Workers to ensure continuity of building functions, including but not limited to security and environmental controls (e.g., HVAC). The state has updated the FAQ page to answer questions on this issue.
Legislative Update – Municipal Permit Tolling Bill Expected to be Passed in House & Senate Today H. 4598, An Act to address challenges faced by municipalities and state authorities resulting from COVID-19, which includes language that addresses the tolling of local permits and is supported by the Mass Municipal Association, NAIOP MA, and the Home Builders & Remodelers Association, is expected to be passed in the House and Senate today and, hopefully, signed by the Governor as soon as this weekend. When it is signed into law we will let you know. 
SJC Postpones Trials in MA Until May 4 Yesterday, the Supreme Judicial Court issued an order postponing all state trials to May 4, at the earliest. All civil and criminal trials which were scheduled to begin on or before May 1 will be delayed “unless the trial is a bench trial in a civil matter and may be conducted otherwise than in-person by agreement of the parties and of the court.” The offices of court clerks, registers, and recorders will continue to work. These duties include scheduling and facilitating hearings, issuing orders, answering questions from legal professionals and the public, and performing other necessary tasks. All business except the filing of pleadings and other documents will be done virtually.
CARES ACT – Resources for Small Businesses  The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a loan program designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep workers on the payroll. Loans are up to $10M, with a 0.5% interest rate and a 2-year maturity; there are no payments for the first six months.  

Who can apply? Businesses, non-profits, Veterans organizations, Tribal concerns, sole proprietorships, self-employed individuals, and independent contractors, with 500 or fewer employees.

When can I apply? The Paycheck Protection Program will be available beginning on Friday, April 3rd. Applications must be submitted by June 30, 2020.

How do I apply? You can apply for the Paycheck Protection Program through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any participating federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, or Farm Credit institution. Ask your local lender if it is participating in the program.

What else should I know? The SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. The program will be available retroactive from February 15, 2020, so employers can rehire their recently laid-off employees through June 30, 2020. Read more here.  

The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance is a Loan Advance of $10,000 that is available to applicants who have been approved for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan; it does not need to be repaid, so you can think of the Advance as a grant for business expenses.  

Who can apply? If you have applied or intend to apply to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, you can also apply for a Loan Advance.

When can I apply? The Loan Advance is available now.

How do I apply? Visit the SBA’s website to submit an application for the Economic Disaster Injury Loan and Loan Advance.

What else should I know? Please note that you should submit an application at the above link, even if you’ve previously submitted an EIDL application prior to the Loan Advance being available. Read more here.  

The SBA is also offering Debt Relief to small businesses. Under this relief, the SBA will pay the principal and interest for six months beginning March 27th, 2020 for qualifying new and current holders of 7(a) loans.

Who can apply? Businesses who already have a covered 7(a) SBA loan or receive a 7(a) SBA loan prior to September 27, 2020.

When can I apply? This relief is applied for covered loans beginning with payments due after March 27, 2020.

How do I apply? Reach out to your SBA lender to discuss how this debt relief applies to your SBA loan.

What else should I know? This debt relief is available only to 7(a) loans and not to loans made under the Paycheck Protection Program, 504 loans, or microloans. Read more here.   Two other Small Business Administration loan programs are also open: Economic Injury Disaster Loans are available through the SBA website; apply here. EIDL loans can be up to $2M, with interest rates of 3.75%, and are for businesses whose revenues were adversely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The Express Bridge Loan Program is available to businesses that have an existing business relationship with an SBA-approved lender; speak to your lender about accessing this option while you await a decision on long-term financing. 
Statement from Eversource on Services During COVID-19 Eversource wants to reassure the development community that we are currently well prepared to continue providing safe, reliable energy and essential services while also safeguarding the health and well-being of our employees and the communities we serve. Connecting new customers is considered an essential service, therefore, here at Eversource: Our Customer Service and Engineering teams are working remotely, taking orders and designing and engineering your project. In an effort to maximize safety, joint site meetings are suspended and replaced with conference calls and virtual meetings. Individual site visits will continue where necessary.Construction will continue where permitted by local cities and towns, and Eversource field crews will continue working on projects. However, outage requests are being evaluated on a case by case basis.Outdoor meter installs will continue. Indoor meter installs will be evaluated on a case by case basis.Eversource will continue to require any and all State and Municipal Inspection requirements to move forward with energizing your facility.   For more information Eversource’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the Eversource website
Ongoing Blood Product Shortage & Need for Blood Donation Sites As you are aware, the COVID-19 virus has caused the cancellation of blood drives across the Commonwealth. There is an urgent need now for patients with chronic conditions and trauma, as well as ensuring an adequate blood and blood product supply going forward. The Governor has deemed “Blood and plasma donors and the employees of the organizations that operate and manage related activities” as an essential service. Donating is a necessity to supply the hospitals with the blood our neighbors require. Donating blood is safe and people should not hesitate to give. In addition, there is a need for community blood drive sites in the eastern part of the state. Identifying donation sites is vital to meet the demand as we go forward. Your local knowledge, suggestions of sites, and potential partners are crucial to meeting the needs of our neighbors who need blood and blood products. To schedule a new blood drive contact Bill Forsyth at (617) 699-3808 or at email William.Forsyth@redcross.org. Those who are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give blood or platelets, are urged to make an appointment to donate as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Wondering how to get involved? Donate Supplies to Help Fight COVID-19

It’s incumbent upon all of us to do everything we can to address the COVID-19 pandemic and aid the first responders and healthcare providers who are putting their health on the line every day to help patients. To that end, the business community is working to support the Massachusetts Life Sciences Emergency Supply Hub to help coordinate efforts to try and bring additional supplies and resources to our state’s healthcare institutions so they can continue to test and treat patients with COVID-19.

NAIOP is asking our member companies to consider how they may be able to help, specifically in donating lab, testing, and diagnostics supplies, personal protection equipment (PPE), and medical and scientific expertise needed to combat COVID-19. Please fill out the following survey to let us know what you can donate: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TVP69NJ

In addition, please let us know if your firm is interested in providing other resources. We are happy to work with you to ensure the commercial real estate industry can be supportive during this challenging time.

With all of this information centralized, state government will be able to more efficiently match requests with available supplies. This is in no way meant to replace the current structure the state has in place for resource requests from healthcare institutions to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health but is meant to augment it.

Please join us in helping to ensure healthcare institutions across the Commonwealth have what they need to continue this fight.

Please feel free to reach out to CEO Tamara Small or Government Affairs Associate Anastasia Nicolaou if you have any questions.

United Way Real Estate Breakfast Did Well, Does Good

If you are involved in real estate, then, most likely, you were with me last Friday at United Way’s 18th Annual Real Estate and Building Industry Breakfast at the Hynes Convention Center.  The breakfast attracted close to 1,100 people in a challenging economic time.  More importantly, it raised over $3,000,000 in support of the many important community programs funded by the United Way.  This exceeded the 2010 campaign for this industry at a time when so many more families are in need.

The United Way has been a vocal supporter of the Housing First approach, which seeks to change the way homeless families and individuals are served by placing them in housing as a first step. Supportive services such as substance abuse counseling and mental health are then provided once they have obtained housing.  It is based on the premise that individuals and families are more responsive to interventions and support once they are in permanent housing.   The Real Estate breakfast has targeted this program as a priority during the last five years and has exceeded its original fundraising target.

Robert Beal Accepts Award

Honored at this breakfast with the 2011 Norman B. Leventhal /Edwin N. Sidman Real Estate and Building Industry Award was Robert Beal, President of The Beal Companies.  This honor was long overdue to a man who is not only one of the leading philanthropists in Boston, but who has dedicated so much of his time to expand contributions to the United Way’s Tocqueville Society, making our local agency’s society one of the top two in the nation.

In recognition of his commitment to underprivileged youth, the United Way created Fostering Opportunity, A Robert Beal Initiative, which will empower youth aging out of foster care.  More than 1,150 young people in Massachusetts enter a bleak future of unemployment, homelessness, and sometimes, crime when they age out of foster care at 18.  This creative initiative will empower these young people to plan and develop a career path by providing extensive caseworker support, financial literacy training, life planning skills, and mentoring.  In addition, they will be encouraged to save for their tuition and job training with matching funds.

“With Fostering Opportunity, we aim to close the door on homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration-the unfortunate obstacles facing many who age out of foster care,” said Michael K. Durkin, President of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Through this program, we hope to open the door to many possibilities for young people who simply want to do better. Live better. Prosper.”

All of us attending the breakfast were very touched by the young man who spoke for the first time in front of an audience about his own life experiences in the foster care system and his drive to find a new life on his own.  It was very clear that the mentoring and support he has been receiving through Adoption and Foster Care Mentoring  has made an enormous difference in his life.

All of us in that function room have our own challenges, both personal and professional, but we are all very lucky to be able to help out those less fortunate than us with our contributions of time and money.  As a result, so many lives are being changed for the better; and where there was no hope, there is now a helping hand.

For more information on these initiatives and the important work of the United Way, please contact Brian Adams at (617) 624-8261.

NAIOP Mourns Loss of Myra Kraft

Myra Kraft passed away today, a tragic loss to her family, friends, and to our whole community.  Myra was one of those rare individuals who dedicated her life to making the world a better place.  Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world” and Myra Kraft took that obligation to heart through her active involvement in countless local and international causes.

The Krafts have led numerous missions to Israel, Eastern Europe, and Russia, and I was privileged to join them on the Governor’s recent trade mission.  It was clear to us all that the groundwork Robert and Myra have done over the years to establish close relations with Israel’s top leaders helped make the Governor’s mission a success.

Philanthropy was not a part-time job for Myra.  When she committed to an organization, she gave it her all.  Not only was she an excellent fundraiser for the agencies she supported, but she was a skilled leader, serving on the boards of numerous charitable organizations for many years.

This last battle was a personal one for her and was one of the very few challenges she could not overcome.  Her causes continue and we must all rise to the challenge to carry on her good work.  All of us in the business community send her family our deepest condolences.

NAIOP Brings the Heat to End Homelessness

Records were certainly broken at NAIOP’s Annual Golf Tournament benefitting Heading Home, held Wednesday.  Not just the 90+ degree temperatures or the countless number of water bottles consumed on the course, but a record that matters – money raised. This was the year that NAIOP passed $1,600,000 in total donations to Heading Home, raised over the tournament’s 23-year history.   

It was a proud moment when I presented Tom Lorello, Heading Home’s Executive Director, a super-sized check in the amount of $122,000, an amount I know represents their largest corporate donation, and which they have come to count on each year. 

David Begelfer (far right) and Tom Lorello (third from right), joined by volunteers and staff.

This money will help Heading Home fulfill its mission to end homelessness in Greater Boston by providing housing in conjunction with effective support services to help change the conditions that create homelessness. Tom and his staff have been pioneers in the Housing First movement, and they are seeing great results despite the continuing housing crisis that grips our state.

At the tournament, we shared a few facts about Heading Home and their clients that help tell the story about why we support their work:

Did You Know?

  • Average age of a Heading Home client is 8 years old
  • In Massachusetts each night there are 3,000 families without a home

In 2010, Heading Home:

  • Served 2,134 at-risk and homeless people
  • Placed 112 families and  58 individuals into permanent housing

The Heading Home Formula:

  • Housing + Job Training + Matched Savings Plans = Self Sufficiency
  • It works: 90% of Heading Home clients have remained permanently housed

Heading Home was the day’s big winner, of course, but tell that to the winners of NAIOP’s new Super Raffle, which offered over 30 prizes donated by local firms. Congratulations to John Bryer of DiMella Shaffer Associates, Inc. who won the grand prize of a Mini Cooper lease, Dante Angelucci of Leggat McCall Properties who won an entertainment center, and Steve Daley of AEW Capital Management who won a vacation cruise package!  (See photos, press release, and other resources)

None of this could have happened without the hard work of the Charitable Events Committee, led by Bob Hayes at KeyPoint Partners and Steve Brodsky at Synergy Investment & Development, along with the dedicated staff at Heading Home, NAIOP’s Board and staff, and of course, our many generous donors and sponsors.  Thank you to all who helped make this day truly one for the record books!