COVID-19: Update on Issues Affecting CRE

We hope you are staying safe and healthy during this challenging time. As this situation is changing by the hour, NAIOP Massachusetts would like to serve as a resource on issues affecting the CRE industry. We are in constant contact with state officials on this issue and we are committed to working to find solutions that address both the long and short-term impacts of this crisis. We are already working on legislative and regulatory solutions including discussions around an extension of permits and other emergency measures. Have an idea you would like to share or a challenge that needs to be addressed in response to this crisis? Contact NAIOP’s CEO Tamara Small or Government Affairs Associate Anastasia Nicolaou.   

In the meantime, we will continue to update this blog to provide you with the most recent and up to date information:

Construction Moratoriums: On Monday, Mayor Walsh issued a halt to all construction in Boston. Companies should maintain the crews necessary to make sure sites are “safe and secure.” The sites need to be secure by Monday, March 23. Skeleton crews will be allowed to stay on to make sure the sites are safe. The ban will be reevaluated in 14 days. Although Governor Baker has not proposed a statewide shutdown on construction sites, many communities throughout Massachusetts have followed Boston’s lead and are now shutting down sites. Cambridge announced its construction shutdown yesterday and we are aware of many other suburban communities who have also enacted shutdowns. The Cambridge shutdown is effective only for construction work on public and private property, including building trades, regulated or permitted by the Commissioner of Inspectional Services or the Commissioner of Public Works.

BBRS Issues Guidance for Building Inspectors: On Tuesday, March 17, the state Office of Public Safety and Inspections issued guidance for local building officials to identify options that would satisfy the inspector’s responsibilities in connection to administering and enforcing the state building code. Specifically, the state building code provides inspectors with the authority to accept reports from an approved subject matter expert per building code sections 104.4 and R104.4.

Changes at MEPA: MEPA procedures have changed in response to COVID-19. and these changes will be in place until April 3, 2020, unless further extended. Among other changes, electronic submittals that are sent to MEPA@mass.gov by 5:00 PM on the submittal deadline will be accepted for publication in the next edition of the Environmental Monitor. Check out the MEPA web site for more information.

Extension of Professional Licensure: On March 18, Governor Baker signed a new emergency order to ensure that licensed professionals do not have their licenses or registrations lapse due to unforeseen problems with renewal during the COVID-19 emergency. Specifically, under this order, occupational or professional licenses of individuals that are in good standing and that would otherwise be up for renewal during the COVID-19 emergency shall be extended for 90 days after the end of the public health emergency. This order does not affect license extensions that have already been granted in earlier emergency orders.

SJC Issues Order Extending All Statutory Deadlines to Apr. 21: The SJC issued an order extending all statutory deadlines to April 21. Specifically, paragraph 9 states “Unless otherwise ordered by the applicable court, all deadlines set forth in statutes or court rules, standing orders, or guidelines that would otherwise expire before April 21, 2020, are extended to that date.”

Resources for Businesses: The Commonwealth has published a list of resources for businesses impacted by the outbreak, including dedicated guidance for businesses affected by the Emergency Order issued on Sunday, 3/15.

Changes to Open Meeting Law: An emergency order was filed temporarily modifying the state’s Open Meeting Law in order to allow state, quasi and local governments to continue to carry out essential functions and operations during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. This emergency order suspends the requirement for public access to the physical location where a public meeting is taking place, provided there are other means of access available (such as a phone conference line, social media or other internet streaming services, etc.). Additionally, the order relieves the requirement that a quorum of members be physically present at a public meeting. During this period, members may all participate by remote or virtual means. This order is applicable to meetings of public bodies including commissions, boards, and committees that engage in policy making at the state, quasi and local level. 

Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program Open: Massachusetts small businesses can now access and apply for Economic Impact Disaster Loans at www.sba.gov/disaster. The SBA has established a toll-free line to answer questions at 1-800-659-2955. U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE, and Women Business Centers will be providing workshops to answer questions and to help small businesses with the loan application process.

Changes to Unemployment Insurance Signed into Law: Yesterday Governor Baker signed (S 2598), which will allow workers to begin immediately collecting unemployment benefits. The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development will also file emergency regulations allowing employees affected by the coronavirus to collect unemployment if their workplace shuts down with plans to reopen within four weeks.

Municipal Flexibility Bill: The municipal flexibility bill (H 4572) would allow town moderators, in consultation with local board of selectmen, to postpone Town Meetings for up to 30 days because of a public health emergency, and a select board could push the meeting beyond June 30, which is currently the deadline in state law. Towns would also be able to reduce quorum requirements to conduct the most pressing Town Meeting business, and town leaders could extend budgets on a month-to-month basis based at prior-year spending levels if they are unable to complete a new fiscal year 2021 budget. This is still moving through the legislative process.

$10M Small Business Recovery Fund Announced by Governor Baker: The program is open to small businesses with less than 50 employees who can demonstrate an adverse impact on revenues resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. Loans are up to $75,000, with an annual interest rate of 3%; there are no payments for the first six months, followed 30-months of principal and interest payments.

Massachusetts 2-1-1: Massachusetts residents are urged to use 2-1-1 for information, resources, and referrals regarding COVID-19. Operators are staffing this hotline 24/7 and translators are available in multiple languages. Residents with questions can dial 2-1-1 from any landline or cellphone or use the live chat option on the Mass 2-1-1 website. There are 17 staff now answering calls, including staff from United Way and 7 staff members from DPH.

Goulston & Storrs Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of NAIOP Massachusetts in Murchison v. Sherborn ZBA

Brief Urges SJC to Reject Appellate Court’s Decision on Standing

BOSTON, MA – Law firm Goulston & Storrs recently filed an amicus brief on behalf of NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, in the case of Murchison v. Sherborn ZBA.  The amicus brief urged the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the lower court’s decision, which sided with the plaintiffs in the case.

NAIOP chose to pursue this opportunity because of concern that the Appeals Court’s decision in this case will, if allowed to stand, chill the development of commercial, industrial, and residential projects statewide by eliminating a meaningful requirement that plaintiffs in zoning cases must establish their standing with admissible evidence of harm to their interests protected by zoning.

“We are grateful to the incredible team at Goulston & Storrs for their work,” said Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts. “Meritless appeals of zoning decisions are used all too frequently to delay and kill beneficial development projects. The decision in Murchison v. Sherborn ZBA will have far reaching implications for our industry. Making it easier for plaintiffs who are not injured to pursue zoning appeals will worsen the current housing shortage, hinder economic development projects, and eliminate a critical standing doctrine. For these reasons, we hope the SJC will overturn the Appeals Court decision.”

The Goulston & Storrs team involved in the matter includes Gary Ronan and Alana Rusin. 

Oral arguments will be held Thursday March 5.

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NAIOP Contact: Anastasia Nicolaou / 650-380-9440

About NAIOP

NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, represents the interests of companies involved with the development, ownership, management, and financing of commercial properties.  NAIOP’s 1,700 members are involved with more than 250 million square feet of office, research & development, industrial, mixed use, multifamily, retail and institutional space. In addition to providing education and networking opportunities, NAIOP advances the interests of the industry and advocates for effective public policy. For more information, visit www.naiopma.org.

About Goulston & Storrs

With over 200 lawyers across multiple disciplines, Goulston & Storrs is a real estate powerhouse with leading-edge corporate, litigation, tax, and private client and trust practices. We employ a team approach that values client outcomes first and foremost. The firm’s dedication to providing prompt, practical legal advice, cost-efficiently and tailored to our clients’ business needs, has resulted in Goulston & Storrs being acknowledged for excellence by leading industry, client, and peer rankings including Chambers USA, BTI’s A-Team for Client Service, and U.S. News & World Report Best Lawyers. Goulston & Storrs is an Am Law 200 law firm with offices in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.

What Does 2020 Hold for CRE in Massachusetts? Companies Incorporate Real Estate as Recruitment Tool

By: Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts

The following first appeared in Banker & Tradesman on December 29, 2019.

The end of 2019 marks more than 10 years in the current real estate cycle. As we enter a new decade, now is a good time to take stock of current market conditions and make predictions for 2020. 

Experts are predicting continued, moderate, growth for 2020. Nationally, investor appetite for real estate remains strong and active in all sectors – retail, industrial, lab, office and housing. National vacancy rates are not showing signs of oversupply, and banks are remaining disciplined and conservative in their lending practices.  

While slow and steady job growth is expected, trade wars, political uncertainty and a labor shortage pose the biggest threats to continued economic growth. Market fundamentals remain strong, but such threats should be monitored closely given their potential to dramatically impact the market. 

Access to Talent Drives Market  

The Greater Boston market had an exceptionally strong year in 2019 with record rent growth and tenant demand. Boston remains one of the top markets for foreign investment. However, while continued growth in 2020 is expected, threats exist.   

Construction and land costs continue to soar, weakening returns and potentially threatening the feasibility of new projects. In the third quarter of 2019, Massachusetts real gross domestic product declined 0.2 percent according to MassBenchmarks, while U.S. real gross domestic product grew by 1.9 percent. A labor shortage, which is only expected to continue, is viewed as the single largest threat to the Massachusetts economy.  

At the recent NAIOP/SIOR Annual Market Forecast, which featured leading real estate experts who provided an analysis of the 2019 statistics and predictions for 2020, the need for access to a talented workforce – and what this means for real estate – was a major theme.   

Historically, tenant space was viewed as a cost center by employers, but it is now being used to attract and retain talent. While WeWork’s business model may have been flawed, it did have a dramatic impact on tenant expectations. Whether it’s beer on tap, game rooms or state-of-the-art fitness centers, employers are now using their space to gain a competitive edge when it comes to getting the best talent. This can be seen in the suburbs as well as Cambridge, Boston and surrounding markets, and it will continue in 2020. This all translates into a rising need for new or renovated space and an average tenant improvement allowance average of $5 per square foot. 

Looking Ahead to 2020  

As we enter a new decade, the Boston market remains strong with opportunities opening up beyond the urban core. Limited supply and high demand for lab space are fueling growth. With East Cambridge lab vacancy rates now at 0.8 percent, life science projects are moving forward in Watertown, Alewife, Allston/Brighton and Somerville, as well as Dorchester, the Seaport and South Boston. Cambridge’s success will also create opportunities for well-located suburban assets, particularly transit oriented development projects with the right amenity base.   

Unprecedented growth is expected to continue in the industrial sector. According to Rick Schuhwerk, executive managing director at Newmark Knight Frank, every $1 billion in online sales translates to 1.25 million square feet of new warehouse demand. The demand for “last-mile” facilities near high-density urban centers is driving up values. In the last five years, rents in core urban industrial space have more than doubled. In 2020, with online sales only expected to increase, vacancies will drop and rents will continue to rise. Spec developments are expected as well as a western migration of industrial space.  

On the housing front, according to Kelly Whitman, vice president of investment research at PGIM Real Estate, opportunities exist to upgrade and develop larger suburban apartments. Suburban apartment annual rent growth continues to outperform the urban, and, given changing demographics, a shift away from small units in the suburbs is expected. As the housing crunch continues, these areas outside of Boston’s core are vital to easing the pressure and providing middle income housing.  

On Tap on Beacon Hill 

Finally, while national economic and market indicators tell us that continued growth is expected next year, legislative and regulatory proposals at the state and local levels have the potential to significantly impact the market and should be watched closely. 

Housing: More housing production is needed to keep up with increased population growth. H.3507, An Act to Promote Housing Choices, is targeted at lowering voting thresholds in key zoning votes, allowing for increased production of housing. If it is not passed before the end of the legislative session, anticipate a continued tightening of the housing market, statewide. 

Transportation: NAIOP believes that a functional, accessible transportation system is key to continued development and investment. As area residents and business owners know, congestion has gotten worse in Greater Boston. The Baker-Polito Administration recently filed the Transportation Bond Bill, (H.4002), outlining a capital plan for addressing gaps in transportation infrastructure statewide. Other legislative proposals to address transportation are expected in 2020.  

Fossil Fuel Bans: A number of communities are considering bans on natural gas connections in all new construction, which will likely halt development entirely. While addressing climate change must be a priority, it is critical that policymakers employ achievable measures that are grounded in the reality of today’s technologies, without blocking housing production.  

Tackling Congestion: Lessons Learned from London and Stockholm

Other Cities Show Greater Boston Needs Both Carrots and Sticks

The below column, written by NAIOP CEO Tamara Small, first appeared in Banker and Tradesman on December 15, 2019.

Whether it’s in a board room, on a soccer field, or at the doctor’s office, the conversation invariably touches on traffic. Our daily commutes have become personal battles and the details are shared like war stories.  

As area residents know, and as multiple reports have confirmed, congestion has gotten worse in Greater Boston. Boston’s economy is booming – with nearly 100,000 new jobs created in the last year alone. There are 300,000 more vehicles on the road than five years ago, which is only projected to grow with the on-demand economy. The result? Bottlenecks on highways and local roads throughout the region. It’s clear that creative solutions, big and small, are needed to address congestion.  

Boston is not alone. Other cities across the nation are struggling to address traffic, air pollution, unsafe roads and emissions. Recognizing that the U.S. benefits by learning how other nations have tackled this issue the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, along with the Barr Foundation, brought a study group to London and Stockholm to see firsthand how these cities have used one specific tool: congestion pricing.  

How Other Cities Tackle Traffic 

The group, of which I was a part, included elected officials, environmental advocates, and business representatives from San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Washington, D.C., Honolulu, Boston and Philadelphia. We met with government officials, transit industry experts, and local community members who shared how London and Stockholm implemented congestion pricing and how it has evolved over the years.  

London launched congestion pricing in 2003 after Ken Livingstone’s mayoral campaign included a pledge to reduce the number of vehicles entering the city. In advance of the launch of the program, London focused on making public transit and other alternatives to car travel easier, cheaper, faster and more reliable. It expanded its already robust public transit options by adding 300 buses, froze fare increases, created discounts for residents in the district and upgraded trains and subways heading into the zone.  

Within the first year of the program, the number of cars in the congestion pricing zone dropped, eventually creeping back up somewhat as the population increased and road capacity was reduced by allocating space to cyclists, pedestrians, and buses. Today, the number of people riding buses is up 40 percent and twice as many people commute by bicycle than in the year 2000. Overall, traffic in London has decreased by 20 percent.  

In Stockholm, congestion pricing was implemented in 2007 after a six-month pilot program. Again, in preparation for the program, major investments in public transit were made, including 14 new bus lines, more high frequency trains, and 2,500 new park and ride spots. People experienced a decrease in traffic congestion starting on day one of the program, which has continued with a permanent reduction of 20 percent less traffic.  

Four Key Takeaways 

In some ways, comparing Boston to Stockholm or London is not an apples–to–apples comparison. These cities have very different public transit systems. However, as the Greater Boston area attempts to address congestion through a variety of mechanisms, the following are the key takeaways from the study trip:  

  1. Pilot programs work. In Stockholm, public support for congestion pricing was extremely low until a pilot program allowed people to experience it firsthand. It demonstrated the significant impact congestion pricing could have on traffic. A pilot program also provides critical data that could shape and fine–tune a more comprehensive program.
  2. People will not get out of their cars if alternative mobility options do not exist. Whether it’s new protected bike lanes, expanded bus routes or increased frequency of commuter rail and subways, investments and expansion must be made before a comprehensive congestion pricing program can succeed. Importantly, the revenue generated by congestion pricing in Stockholm and London was used to further expand these options. In addition, riders must be confident that the public transit system is reliable.
  3. A successful congestion pricing program must consider equity – whether it is the impact on certain populations or regions. Outreach to key community stakeholders along with data collection on exactly who would be impacted and in what ways are critical in the development of congestion pricing programs. 
  4. Congestion pricing is an effective tool. Cordon and area pricing have generally reduced driving by 15-20 percent and congestion by 30 percent or more. Importantly, in Stockholm, even after investments were made to expand public transit options, ridership did not increase until after congestion pricing was implemented. This is proof that a carrot and stick approach is needed to effectively reduce congestion.  

One thing is clear, there is no one silver bullet that will reduce congestion throughout Greater Boston. A wide range of investments and actions is needed. MassDOT recently issued recommendations on how they plan to tackle congestion including, among other things, addressing local and regional bottlenecks where feasible; reinventing bus transit at both the MBTA and at regional transit authorities; increasing MBTA ridership and capacity; and creating infrastructure to support shared travel modes.  

Changes of all sizes will make a difference and NAIOP looks forward to working with MassDOT and key stakeholders as discussions around addressing congestion continue.  

Cracking the Climate Code: Battle Raging Over Building Energy Standards

NAIOP Massachusetts remains committed to addressing the serious ramifications of climate change, and we look forward to working with policy makers to move forward practical, feasible initiatives. However NAIOP continues to oppose technologically unattainable and impracticable proposals. The below article, written by Andy Metzger, originally appeared in the online edition of CommonWealth Magazine on December 8, 2019.

An arcane state board, known to few outside the world of design and construction, is the setting of a furious clash the outcome of which could influence the amount of climate-curdling emissions that pour out of chimneys, as well as the future supply of housing in Massachusetts, where affordable homes are already scarce.

The Board of Building Regulation and Standards might seem an odd venue for the drama that has unfolded there. The BBRS adopts and administers the statewide building code and the building energy code, sets of rules that are important but would bore the average reader to tears. It is the domain of professionals who think in cubic feet, seismic loads, and kilowatt hours. Now, the problems of the world are before it.

While much attention has been focused on reducing emissions from power plants and cars, commercial, residential, and industrial buildings in Massachusetts collectively spew more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than either the power or transportation sectors. Commercial and residential buildings in Massachusetts emit about as much harmful gas into the air as the entire transportation sector.

That’s leading activists like Dr. Gaurab Basu, a Somerville physician who says the climate crisis will ultimately produce a public health crisis of increased deaths and hospitalizations, to insert themselves into the byzantine world of building codes. “As a parent of two young children and as a physician, I’m deeply concerned about this. I realize that the crisis forces us to do things that feel uncomfortable, to be pushing at a scale that feels like it’s untenable, but that’s the situation we’re in,” Basu told the board at its November meeting.

Climate activists like Basu, who have paid careful heed to the dire warnings of the world’s scientists, have pressed the BBRS to put out a net-zero energy code. The idea is that under a more stringent code newly constructed and newly renovated buildings would produce virtually no greenhouse gases, notching a small but meaningful victory in the worldwide campaign to avoid a climate catastrophe. That could be accomplished with tighter construction, energy efficient appliances, on-site renewable energy generation such as solar roofs, or under certain circumstances, a financial arrangement to procure renewable power from off-site.

Real estate agents and some builders are strongly opposed to the net-zero campaign, arguing that piling new requirements on top of existing construction costs would grind development to a halt, squeezing home prices, and exacerbating the region’s affordable housing crisis.

“We encourage an energy-efficient code, but we need to go where it makes sense from a cost standpoint and a technology standpoint,” said Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts, which represents commercial developers. “We may get there, but we’re not there yet.”

Because of the schedule for adopting new building codes in Massachusetts, which statutorily follows the issuance of the International Energy Conservation Code, the big decision over whether to include a net zero code in that update won’t come to a head for another couple years – probably 2021 at the earliest. But environmentalists and business interests have already begun to skirmish and jockey for position.

Click here to read the sidebar.

Meanwhile, activists are making other plays at the local level to try to cut down on climate pollutants. In late November, Brookline’s town meeting adopted a bylaw to prohibit the installation of oil and gas pipes in new construction and renovations, which would give the market a big shove toward electrical appliances and home-heating systems. It was the first municipality to take that step. All town bylaws must undergo a review by the attorney general’s office to see whether they align with state laws and the constitution, so opponents still have a chance to kill the policy. Arlington town manager Adam Chapdelaine said on Twitter that depending on how the attorney general rules, he would be interested in trying the same sort of thing in his town.

From a global perspective, environmental initiatives undertaken so far have failed to slow – much less reverse – the output of greenhouse gas emissions into earth’s atmosphere. For the past decade, emissions have grown 1.5 percent annually, and emissions must drop sharply over the next decade to avoid the worst ravages of climate change, according to the latest United Nations report. The blight, disease and flooding that unchecked climate change will unleash is all the more reason, according to advocates, to take the necessary steps in Massachusetts to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas that seeps out of our homes and workplaces.

BOARD MEETING SHOWDOWN

The Board of Building Regulation and Standards is nestled under several layers of government bureaucracy. It is contained within the Division of Professional Licensure, which is an agency of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, which is itself a component of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, whose secretary, Mike Kennealy, serves at the pleasure of Gov. Charlie Baker.

The 11-member board is presided over by John Couture, who doubles as the town of Sutton’s building inspector. Couture, who decline an interview and said he doesn’t talk to any news reporters, will see his term come to an end December 31. Couture will remain on the board, which will elect its next chairperson, according to a spokesperson.

The BBRS holds its monthly meetings all over the state. When in Boston, it generally uses a conference room in a non-descript state office building across the Massachusetts Turnpike from Chinatown. That is where the board convened on a Tuesday in early November for a session where net-zero proponents and opponents each warned of a calamitous future.

Over the course of several hours, members of the public alternately pressed the board for stricter environmental standards to avoid a complete environmental collapse, or cautioned against rash action that could further balloon housing costs or threaten the chimney and fireplace industry. Couture and other board members listened respectfully to some of the testimony, but they were at times dismissive or skeptical of environmentalists pitching the net-zero idea.

Jacob Knowles, director of sustainable design at BR+A, a national engineering firm, told the board that net-zero building makes for cheaper and healthier living spaces, and his firm found that making buildings net-zero adds less than 1 percent to the construction costs. To buttress his case, Knowles unfurled a letter signed by roughly 1,500 people and 80 companies, including prominent architecture firms, calling for the development and adoption of a net-zero code.

“Take that with you,” Couture replied curtly, after Knowles displayed the letter on the table. “We don’t want your prop.”

Board members also occasionally debated with commenters, questioning the philosophical underpinnings of their advocacy.

“There are a lot of developers that will do the code minimum, period. Period. So we need to raise all boats,” argued Jim Stanislaski, an architect for the international firm Gensler, who supports creating a net-zero code. “And incentives are great; carrots are great. But we need to move out of the voluntary into the compulsory.”

To Michael McDowell, a board member and homebuilder, that sounded like an indictment of people’s intelligence.

“The more we regulate, the less we give citizens of Massachusetts an opportunity to make a choice,” McDowell said. “In other words, you’re almost saying to the citizens, ‘You’re too stupid to make the right choice so we’re going to make it for you. Congratulations.’”

Stanislaski protested that he wasn’t calling people stupid. Then Couture jumped in to question what would happen if the highest standards were used for structural integrity and fire protection requirements – as opposed to energy efficiency.

“If we started saying, you know what, ‘We think that we should have 200-pound roof-loads, just because it’s good,’” said Couture. “There are ramifications for that.”

To deal with these knotty issues, the board had tasked its Energy Advisory Committee – which is made up of other building professionals and engineers – to “show us what net-zero looks like,” according to Couture. But around the same time, the board changed the composition of that committee so that it tilts more toward the views of the construction industry. In October, the board decided to add three contractors to the advisory committee and remove spots designated for a utility representative, an indoor air quality expert, and an appliance expert.

To those hoping to push the state towards a net-zero code, the committee shakeup seemed part of a strategy to thwart that effort.

“It seems like a big shift to say, ‘Take off some of the energy experts and put on contractors,’” said Knowles in an interview. “At face value, that screams to me of trying to shift the whole dialogue towards a more conservative solution.”

A discussion about the shakeup raised hackles among board members during their November meeting when member Richard Crowley suggested that “people on the ground know more about what’s going on” than architects or engineers who rely on books.

“Just stop. Really stop,” board member Kerry Dietz, an architect, interjected. “It is insulting to those of us who are professionals.”

According to Couture, the shakeup was based on a directive from Division of Professional Licensure commissioner Diane Symonds, who wanted more input from “stakeholders.”

“Just because we added three contractors doesn’t mean we added three villains,” said Couture. “We added people that are actually building this stuff.”

Couture also expressed his irritation at an email circulated about the advisory committee issue that he said was “mean” and attacked the board’s integrity. Couture appeared to have been talking about a missive from the Massachusetts Climate Action Network encouraging people to attend the November meeting. While that email criticized the board’s changes to the advisory committee as a “big step backwards,” it did not suggest ulterior motives or make any overt attacks on the board’s integrity.

Advocates on both sides of the issue will have plenty of time to hone their arguments. Under a 2008 state law dubbed the Green Communities Act – which was one of Deval Patrick’s signature environmental accomplishments as governor – the state must meet or exceed the standards of the International Energy Conservation Code, which is developing an update for 2021. That would present the next obvious opportunity to push for a net-zero code.

WHAT WOULD NET-ZERO MEAN?

Net-zero construction is already happening in Massachusetts, and the principle of a net-zero code is pretty straightforward: eliminate the carbon footprint of buildings by enhancing their efficiency and using renewable energy sources for all power. But advocates are fuzzy on the details. As of November, only the American Institute of Architects had submitted a fleshed out proposal to the BBRS.

The AIA plan would give builders a couple of options to determine a building’s energy needs either through a formula or by measuring the building’s actual energy performance. Then the AIA plan would require a corresponding amount of renewable energy generation either installed on-site or procured off-site. The AIA net-zero plan would apply to new commercial, institutional, and mid-level or high-rise residential buildings.

There is one big complication with applying a net-zero standard to urban development. Residential towers and commercial skyscrapers don’t have enough space on their roofs to provide solar power to all the floors below.

“High rise is extremely challenging,” said Stanislaski, the architect who supports shifting to net-zero.

One irony is that high rise developments can help reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector, especially if they are near transit, because they tend to make neighborhoods denser and more walkable.

It’s not impossible to build a net-zero skyscraper. Solar power and wind energy can be procured off-site, and under the current mix of government incentives, it can even be cheaper than using fossil fuels, according to Knowles, who acknowledged that a renewable energy requirement presents new risks for developers.

“They want to minimize risk, so if there is any potential volatility, they want to avoid that, but I don’t see how that supersedes the need to address climate change and minimize our carbon footprint,” Knowles said.

Small, the NAIOP Massachusetts CEO who represents commercial real estate developers, has a bleaker view on what sort of effects a net-zero standard could exert on the marketplace.

“When you then talk about adding on something that makes a building zero net-energy, it’s going to be cost-prohibitive, so nothing’s going to be built. The numbers simply don’t work. And I don’t think when we have a housing crisis that really is necessarily the best approach,” Small said. “I think we have to proceed with caution because the unintended consequences could literally be no new commercial office space, lab space, retail, multi-family, mixed-use, you name it.”

Other areas with high housing costs have pushed the construction industry towards net-zero standards. California has instituted new requirements and set goals to phase-in net-zero construction for new and existing buildings over the next decade. New York is taking a number of steps to encourage net-zero developments and retrofit existing buildings to make them more energy efficient.

Massachusetts has made significant strides in energy efficiency. For nearly a decade, the Bay State has earned top marks from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy for its policies, including the relatively stringent measures adopted by the BBRS.

But given the scale of threat posed by global warming, many believe more should be done, and Knowles said the changes needed in construction are well within reach.

“This is not pie-in-the-sky. This is not some sort of dream fantasy idea. This is something that we’re doing consistently now on large, complex urban and non-urban projects,” Knowles said. “I have not come across a project that cannot achieve these goals, and in every single case we’ve been able to prove it’s cost-effective.”

CEO TAMARA SMALL TESTIFIES IN SUPPORT OF NAIOP LEGISLATION REGARDING UTILITY ACCOUNTABILITY

On Tuesday, July 9 NAIOP CEO Tamara Small testified before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Cable in support of NAIOP bill H. 2861, An Act to Encourage Predictability in Utility Connections. Introduced by Representative Thomas Golden of Lowell, the legislation is targeted at addressing the frustrations the commercial real estate sector has expressed for years regarding the lack of transparency and predictability for utility connections at development projects. If passed, the bill will ensure that commercial customers, as well as new connections and relocations of existing connections, are included in the service quality standards.

NAIOP CEO Tamara Small testifying before the Joint Committee of Telecommunications, Utilities and Cable July 9,2019

Currently, when utilities request a rate increase, they are “graded” based on how they perform under the Department of Public Utilities’ Service Quality Standards.  Customer satisfaction, response times for service outages, and repairs and maintenance are some of the criteria considered under M.G.L. Chapter 164 §1E.  However, utilities are only judged based on their performance with residential customers, not commercial customers.  In addition, only existing connections, and not new connections, are included in the service quality standards.

“As we saw with the gas moratorium and lockout last fall, new utility connections are absolutely critical for economic growth,” testified Small. “Small business owners could not open their doors, companies could not relocate to new office space, and tenants who had signed leases for new apartments did not have a place to call home.”

NAIOP believes that by including commercial projects, the relocation of existing connections, and new connections in the review process, we will have greater transparency and accountability in the regulation of our utilities statewide. NAIOP will continue to advocate for the passage of this bill so that future real estate development projects could benefit from the proposed change.

NAIOP Testifies in Support of Umbrella Liquor Licenses for Large Real Estate Development Projects

Earlier this month, NAIOP’s Government Affairs Associate, Anastasia Nicolaou, testified before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in support of H. 208, An Act Relative to Large Project Based Licenses. If passed, the bill would allow owners of large real estate development projects to apply for an “umbrella liquor license” with the local licensing authority, overseen by the State Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. Under the “umbrella license” the local licensing authority would be able to issue restricted project-based liquor licenses for restaurants. These licenses would not be subject to the quota established in the Massachusetts General Laws. They would be tied to the property, not available for resale, and non-transferable.

Currently, liquor license quotas in a city or town in Massachusetts create a barrier for including restaurants in real estate development projects, weakening the project’s overall feasibility. In her testimony, Nicolaou underscored the importance of shop/work/live to the future of retail. Restaurants are critical components to the success of mixed use developments, which create jobs, tax revenue, and community centers for their residents and municipalities.

Nicolaou also focused on the important role of local government in the proposed process.

“This legislation allows the local government to participate in the decision-making process by requiring the adoption of a local ordinance or bylaw to allow this process within their jurisdiction,” said Nicolaou. “This encourages a partnership between the developers and local government as they work together for the future economic prosperity of the community.” NAIOP was pleased to testify in support of this legislation along with representatives from ICSC and will continue to advocate for passage of the bill so that future real estate development projects could benefit from the proposed change

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.

 

How Much Are Smart Buildings Really Worth?

smartinfographicMITCourtesy of the MIT Center for Real Estate and Real Estate Innovation Lab – Get Smart, Connected & Green

Arguably, the premier commercial office space market in the U.S. – New York City – is showing signs that office tenants will pay a significant premium on rent for space in a ‘smart’ building.

Compared to office leases in the city for non-smart buildings, MIT Center for Real Estate researcher Alfredo Keitaro Bando Hano (2018) found that office properties with smart building attributes attracted rents that commanded a 37 percent premium on effective rent per net square feet. The sample included 454 non-smart building properties and 223 smart office leases using the Compstak transaction database for Manhattan for 2013 and onwards. The MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab continues to research and report on smart, connected and green buildings.

Thanks to new technologies and devices, occupiers now have the possibility to measure and analyze the activity that occurs inside their structures. Companies are not focused on location only anymore; they now they look for more productive and efficient areas, and smart buildings rise as a possible answer to this new requirement.

In search of flexibility and agility, users have pushed changes in architectural and interior design to improve employee satisfaction, health, and engagement, hence better productivity.

Smart buildings are self-sensing. For the purposes of Keitaro’s study, a smart building must have installed one or more smart amenities that go beyond sustainability and aim to improve the occupier experience. Smart amenities include occupancy sensors, automatic windows, cameras with emotion recognition algorithms, and other technologies that capture and provide information to tenants and landlords. Ultimately, a smart building is one that adapts to the needs and preferences of the building’s occupants. And, in the office environment, responding to workers’ needs and preferences stand to significantly increase employee productivity and well-being.

We can predict that in the future, new smart amenities will come to market and offer commercial real estate developers, owners, and investors opportunities to incorporate smart technology in the building’s plans and reap the financial benefits.

That being said, the New York City sample did not delve into the cost of constructing and operating a smart building compared to a non-smart facility. It is not yet clear whether the rent premiums offset the costs to construct, renovate, and operate smart buildings. Further, due to other factors (like location) not all the projects will immediately obtain these premiums just by embracing a smart strategy. Nevertheless, it is worth emphasizing that smart buildings have value.

NAIOP Massachusetts is an industry partner to the MIT Center for Real Estate. Alfredo Keitaro Bando Hano wrote The Incremental Value of Smart Buildings Upon Effective Rents and Transaction Prices (2018) as a master’s thesis.

For more information about the MIT Center for Real Estate’s research, please go to: https://mitcre.mit.edu/ or to the MIT REILab:  http://realestateinnovationlab.mit.edu/

 

NAIOP Supports Baker-Polito Housing Legislation

housingpressconference
On Monday, NAIOP was pleased to join Governor Baker, Lieutenant Governor Polito, and Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay to support a new initiative to increase housing production in the Commonwealth. The Administration’s Housing Choice Initiative creates a new system of incentives and rewards for municipalities that deliver sustainable housing growth. It also creates a new technical assistance toolbox to empower cities and towns to plan for new housing production and proposes legislative changes, through An Act to Promote Housing Choices, to deliver smart, effective zoning at the local level. (A section by section summary of the bill is also available.)

NAIOP believes the production of workforce housing is critical for the continued growth of the Massachusetts economy and we are pleased to support this initiative. Unlike the extremely problematic zoning legislation that is supported by planners and environmental groups and opposed by the real estate industry and municipalities, this bill does not include language that would hinder the production of housing. Instead, it rewards communities that are producing new housing units and have adopted certain best practices with a new Housing Choice Designation.

Cities and towns that receive the Housing Choice Designation will be eligible for new financial resources, including exclusive access to new Housing Choice Capital Grants, and preferential treatment for many state grant and capital funding programs, including MassWorks, Complete Streets, MassDOT capital projects and PARC and LAND grants.

Under the legislation, the following local zoning changes would require only a majority vote of the local legislative body:

  • Reducing dimensional requirements, such as minimum lot sizes, to allow homes to be built closer together.
  • Reducing required parking ratios, which can lower the cost of building new housing and accommodate development on a smaller footprint.
  • Creating mixed-use zoning in town centers, and creating multi-family and starter home zoning in town centers, near transit, and in other smart locations.
  • Adopting “Natural Resource Protection Zoning” and “Open Space Residential Development.” These zoning techniques allow the clustering of new development while protecting open space or conservation land.
  • Adopting provisions for Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), which protects open space while creating more density in suitable locations.
  • Adopting 40R “Smart Growth” zoning, which provides incentives for dense, mixed-use development in town centers, near transit, and in other “smart” locations.
  • Allowing accessory dwelling units or “in-law” apartments – small apartments in the same building or on the same lot as an existing home.
  • Allowing for increased density through a Special Permit process promoting more flexible development.

While it does not mandate that any town adopt these zoning best practices, it does remove the barrier of having to convince a supermajority of the legislative body to adopt them.  

Unlike the zoning bills referenced above, this bill has the support of all of the key players – municipalities, business groups, housing advocates, environmental groups, and real estate. NAIOP looks forward to working with the Baker Administration and the legislature to advance this important legislation, which will be an important step in truly addressing the housing crisis facing Massachusetts.