COVID-19 Update: Governor Baker Extends Eviction Moratorium

Today, as expected, the Baker-Polito Administration announced that it will be extending the current eviction moratorium by 60-days, using emergency powers granted by Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020, An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During the COVID-19 Emergency. This Act suspends most residential and small business commercial evictions, as well as residential foreclosures. It does not relieve tenants or homeowners of their obligation to pay rent or make mortgage payments. The extension will expire at 11:59pm on October 17, 2020.  

As reported on Friday, Massachusetts currently has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. In addition, the additional $600 available in federal unemployment benefits is expected to expire at the end of the month. Today’s announcement comes in the wake of the filing of House Docket 5166/Senate Bill 2831, An Act to Guarantee Housing Stability During the COVID-19 Emergency and Recovery, which seeks to institute a blanket eviction moratorium for 12-months beyond the end of the March 10 state of emergency that is currently still in effect. NAIOP has joined a coalition of real estate groups in strongly opposing this legislation. If enacted, HD 5166/SB 2831 would paralyze the real estate industry in Massachusetts by instituting rent control practices and rent cancellation, exposing good faith property owners to 93A damages, and sealing the records of all renters, not just those impacted by COVID-19.  

NAIOP is in constant communication with the Administration and Legislative Leaders on this issue and we continue to work with a subcommittee of attorneys and owners on eviction policies and legislation. If you or a member of your firm would like to share your experience with this moratorium, please reach out to CEO Tamara Small or Government Affairs Associate Anastasia Nicolaou.

CRE Must Do More to Ensure Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Now Is the Time to Listen, Learn – and Act

The below op-ed was originally published in Banker and Tradesman on June 28, 2020

Now is a pivotal moment in history where society’s attention is finally focused on what we have collectively ignored for far too long – hundreds of years of brutality, racism and inequity throughout the United States of America. While COVID-19 has pushed us into unusual and unprecedented times, the systemic issues being protested were with us long before the pandemic.  

As an industry, commercial real estate is predominantly white and male. While steps have been made in recent years to begin to address this, more must be done. The collective voice of our industry is strong – and must be used to amplify voices that are not heard. It is incumbent upon industry leaders to bring attention to these injustices and to commit to real change for this critical sector of the economy.  

NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, applauds the peaceful protests that have occurred around the country and here in the commonwealth. Diversity, equity and inclusion are a priority for our organization and our leadership, but we recognize that we can and will do more to advance change across the industry.  

Small incremental change is no longer enough. Real change will happen when all companies – and senior leadership – commit to creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. It will not happen overnight, but the industry must be unified in making diversity, equity and inclusion a priority. 

What Must Be Done 

NAIOP urges the professionals and companies in the commercial real estate industry to start with the following action steps. 

Listen and learn. Business leaders like to think they have all the answers. However, now is a time to listen, learn and acknowledge how deeply embedded racism is in the United States. This does not mean asking the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in your company for their advice – seek out professionals who specialize in this space and commit to being an active part of any company dialogue. Internalize what you learn and address it in your professional and personal interactions. 

Engage leadership. Change must come from the top. While human resources professionals are an important piece of this work, hiring BIPOC is just one piece of the puzzle. In order for the industry to diversify itself from entry-level positions to the C-suite, and change the culture, company leadership must be at the table, advocating for BIPOC employee success and committing to long term change. 

Support MWBE businesses and the organizations that empower them. After too many years of hearing that there were no people of color in commercial real estate, Dave Madan created the Builders of Color Coalition (BCC). It convenes minority real estate professionals in Greater Boston’s building sector to leverage access to development projects. Its 500 members include developers, investors, architects, attorneys, bankers, contractors and brokers working across a wide range of firms, from family-owned enterprises to multinational companies. The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, also known as BECMA, led by Segun Idowu works to advance the economic well-being of Black businesses, organizations that serve the Black community and Black residents of Massachusetts. These organizations are critical to the success of businesses of color and will help the commercial real estate industry to create more diverse teams.  

These are just two examples of organizations that are working to address serious inequities in companies across Massachusetts. Seek out organizations, community groups and change-makers who have been working in this space for years and invite them to the table as you begin these conversations.  

Hold Yourself Accountable 

Create a career pathway for diverse talent. Talent recruitment programs designed to introduce high school and college students of color to commercial real estate are essential. The Commercial Real Estate Success Training (CREST) Program is a comprehensive initiative to support commercial real estate companies in their commitment to attract underrepresented college students of color and women to the industry through summer internships. The program, now in its fourth year, has placed close to one hundred students in internships and led to career placements in the industry.  

With broader industry support, more students can be placed in these internships. NAIOP is encouraging its members to support CREST by hosting an intern or committing to a financial contribution that will allow the program to expand. The Real Estate Exchange (REEX) Summer Program, sponsored by REEC, is a unique 10-day, academic-intensive experience for high school students created to expose teens of color to top-tier universities and career opportunities in business, entrepreneurship and commercial real estate. NAIOP is proud to support REEX and CREST and we will continue to urge members to seek out programs that target equity and inclusion and implement them. 

Be accountable. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Create diversity metrics, set hiring goals and update them regularly. While numbers are important, they do not matter if the culture is not inclusive and supportive. Make both a priority – and hold yourself accountable for their success. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list of action items for the industry. These are simply near-term steps that should be the minimum requirement for all commercial real estate firms. In the coming months, NAIOP will be working with a subcommittee of its board of directors and a coalition of real estate trade groups to identify and advance further opportunities for change. We do not have all the answers, but we are committed to learning, listening and acting to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive industry. 

Tamara Small is CEO and Reesa Fischer is executive director of NAIOP Massachusetts – The Commercial Real Estate Development Association. 

COVID-19 Update: Boston Announces Office Reopening Framework

Today, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a new framework for all office spaces located within Boston. Starting June 1, office spaces located within the City of Boston will be required to limit capacity to no more than 25 percent of the maximum occupancy level during phase 1. This framework is in place as an operational recommendation to be used as a reference in line with Federal and State-wide mandates.

These operational recommendations apply to operations during Phase 1 of the Commonwealth’s phased reopening plan, and are subject to revision and modification during subsequent phases or as necessitated by public health considerations. The City’s operational recommendations include, but are not limited to:

  • Identify and clearly communicate a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 and the impact to the workplace.
  • Providing personal protective gear for any employee whose job functions requires it, as identified in the hazard assessment, including training on how to put on and remove equipment safely.
  • Limiting the number of people in an elevator at a time to no more than four. All individuals must wear face coverings in elevators, except where unsafe due to medical condition or disability.
  • Stair usage should be limited to one direction (down) except in cases of emergency.
  • Regular sanitization of handrails, buttons, door handles and other high-touch frequency areas.
  • Establish accommodation and leave policies for employees that are consistent with federal standards.

We encourage all of our members and member-organizations to review the City’s framework. These operational recommendations incorporate the Commonwealth’s Sector Specific Workplace Safety Standards for Office Spaces and supplement them with recommendations based on guidance from the CDC, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and industry associations to offer best practices for preparing and returning to the physical workplace, preparing your workforce, and ensuring continuity of operations. NAIOP presented to the City regarding Industry Best Practices and we are pleased to see that many of our recommendations have been incorporated into this guidance.

The Mayor has made it very clear that the City hope’s employees who can work from home continue to do so throughout this recovery in order to limit potential exposure and allow for a successful and resilient reopening.

NAIOP will continue to advocate for policies, Executive Orders and legislation that address how this public health crisis is affecting real estate and overall economic development. We are working on numerous initiatives. Please feel free to reach out to CEO Tamara Small or Government Affairs Associate Anastasia Nicolaou if you have any questions.

COVID-19 Update: Governor Announces Reopening Plan – Construction Restarts and Office Space Reopening Standards Released

Today, the Baker-Polito Administration released its plan for reopening the Massachusetts Economy. Please visit mass.gov/reopening to review the full report, general business guidance, sector guidance, mandatory employer and worker posters, and FAQs on the 4-Phase Reopening Plan. In order to reopen, all businesses must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Phase One will allow the following (with restrictions, some capacity limitations, staggered start):

  • On May 18: Essential businesses; Manufacturing; Construction
  • On May 25: Lab space; Office space (outside of Boston); Limited Personal Services (hair; pet grooming; car washes); Retail (remote fulfillment; curbside pick-up)
  • On June 1: Office space in Boston

Each phase will last a minimum of three weeks and could last longer depending upon public-health data.

All Construction Included in Phase 1 Reopening Announcement

Governor Baker announced that effective today all construction (including office, retail, etc.) will be allowed to proceed if the appropriate documentation and safety standards and guidance are in place (in addition to any local requirements or restrictions). 

In addition to the mandatory safety standards for all industries announced on May 11 regarding social distancing, hygiene, staffing and operations, and sanitization, the Baker-Polito Administration today released construction-specific mandatory safety standards and guidance. The requirements must be in place before reopening a site, and include but are not limited to:

  • Keeping all crews a minimum of six feet apart at all times to eliminate the potential of cross-contamination
  • No in-person meetings of more than 10 people
  • Where social distancing is impossible, employers will be required to supply PPE including, as appropriate, a standard face covering, gloves and eye protection.
  • The elimination of large gathering places on site such as shacks and break areas, allowing instead for small break areas with limited seating available to ensure social distancing.
  • The designation of a site-specific COVID-19 Officer (who may also be the Health and Safety Officer) for every site except for construction and remodeling work in one to three family residences. This Officer shall certify that the contractor and all subcontractors are in full compliance with the COVID-19 safety requirements for construction.

The construction-specific requirements and guidance allows cities and towns to require additional site-specific risk analysis and safety plans.

Construction in the City of Boston

Also starting today, May 18, the City of Boston will allow a subset of construction projects on sites that meet specific criteria to commence (hospitals, public schools, 1-3 unit residential buildings, road and utility work or other outdoor/open-air work such as steel erection). On May 26, all construction projects in Boston may re-commence construction, if the construction site has submitted a COVID-19 Safety Plan and a COVID-19 Safety Affidavit in accordance with the City’s Temporary Guidance for Construction

Office Space Reopening

Starting May 25, the Administration will allow office space to reopen at 25% of capacity, except in the City of Boston, which will allow office space to reopen on June 1. NAIOP has been in talks with the City and we will keep members posted if any additional standards for offices are released. The Baker-Polito Administration has released guidance for office spaces ahead of the May 25 date so that companies are able to review and plan for reopening. The guidance released includes a COVID-19 checklist and mandatory sector-specific safety standards.

The Administration has made it very clear that they hope employees who can work from home continue to do so throughout this recovery in order to limit potential exposure and allow for a successful and resilient reopening.

Plan for Public Transit Released

The MBTA has remained open throughout this public health crisis, and will continue to provide service as adjusted to prioritize essential travel for healthcare and emergency workers. All riders and employees are required to wear face coverings while riding public transit. Stations and vehicles will continue to be cleaned and sanitized with increased frequency, and customers should board at the rear doors of buses and street-level trolley stops. Seniors and individuals with disabilities may still board at the front door if needed. 

A message to Millennials and Gen Z: Finding opportunity in uncertainty

In uncertainty, there is opportunity. Seize it.

The following post was written by Leslie Cohen, Principal and Chief Operating Officer at Samuels & Associates and 2020 President of NAIOP Massachusetts

For most leaders of companies, the last eight weeks have been among the most challenging of their careers. The pace of change, the uncertainty ahead, the multi-dimensional contingency planning, all while adopting to new virtual environments and motivating a team unmoored from its daily routines and worried about their own health, the health of their family and friends, the economic uncertainty and the status of the world during this pandemic.

But most of us have lived through multiple challenging moments, from the aftermath of 9/11 to the crash of 2008. And we know that while the path ahead of us is unlike either of those moments, we will eventually get to the other side.

For the younger professionals in our firms, however, these are unchartered waters. Though they came of age during the Great Recession, they have experienced only economic growth in their careers. And while those are undoubtedly more fun (and possibly more lucrative, at least in the short term), these moments of uncertainty offer opportunity as well.

For those on our teams and in our circles who have not worked through a crisis or economic downturn, I can assure you that:

  1. You will not only get through this, you will be prepared for the next time. In the short term, this situation may result in a temporary setback on your professional goals, your personal goals. But not only will you adjust to the new normal, you may see opportunities that weren’t there before. There is also something really powerful about learning to adjust your personal expectations for the greater good. And when the next moment of crisis comes – and it will – you will have the confidence that comes from having survived this one.
  2. You will learn a TON. I learned so much about the real estate business in 2008 – because that moment required different things from a smaller team than I had ever been asked to do before. That’s where I learned how to be a leasing agent, how to be an asset manager, how to identify the mission critical items in loan and venture documents, and more. My mindset changed from that of a project manager with an engineer’s point of view to that of a businessperson with a broader perspective.  
  3. You will be a smarter businessperson, smarter manager and smarter leader. Up cycles are wonderful – they offer the resources to foster creativity and explore new ideas. But down cycles foster resiliency, innovation, and the need to do more with less, set yourself apart from the pack, and always be hunting for the way to turn smaller opportunities into valuable assets.
  4. You will be a leader. Even if you aren’t in a partnership or management role, this crisis enables you to take a leadership position – to rally the troops, to be creative and reinvent yourself and help others do the same. Once it feels like the crisis phase of the pandemic is over, we’ll be faced with new challenges. Embrace these skills as we navigate the “new normal” and return to the office – creating new systems, embracing new protocol, and fostering a positive environment for new ideas.

I didn’t know any of this during the early moments of the 2008 downturn. And I probably would have scoffed at the idea, during a moment when it felt like the world I knew had fallen off a cliff, that the experience would define me in all of the most positive ways. But it did. 

In uncertainty, there is opportunity. Seize it.

Leslie Cohen – Principal, Chief Operating Officer

COVID 19 Update: Governor Signs Bill Tolling Local Permits and Other Issues Affecting CRE

Governor Signs Bill Tolling Municipal Permits

Today, Governor Baker signed H.4598, An Act to address challenges faced by municipalities and state authorities resulting from COVID-19. This bill addresses many challenges faced by local governments throughout the Commonwealth during this time and 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. The language, found in Section 17 provides necessary relief to cities and towns that, due to disruptions caused by the state of emergency, are unable to timely process and hear permitting applications. At the same time, these changes balance the needs of residents and developers by ensuring that their current permits are no impaired by the emergency declaration. 

House Passes Commercial and Residential Eviction Moratorium

On Thursday, April 2, the House passed H. 4615, An Act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 Emergency . The bill enacts eviction moratoriums for both commercial and residential tenants. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Small Business Administration Clarifies Paycheck Protection Program

Late yesterday, the Small Business Administration (SBA) issued an interim final rule that provides additional guidelines and requirements for its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) aiding small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The interim rule provides increased clarity on several key issues. It specifies underwriting expectations and allows lenders to rely on borrower documentation for loan forgiveness without verification – if the borrower attests that it has accurately verified the payments for eligible costs. This provides increased protection for lenders should borrowers misrepresent information. Additionally, the guidance states that after seven weeks, lenders may request that SBA purchase the expected forgiveness amount of PPP loans. It also allows banks that are already certified as 7(a) lenders to begin approving loan applications with SBA delegated authority starting today, April 3.

Cambridge Issues Construction Guidance for Still-Active Sites

On the evening of April 2, the City of Cambridge released guidance for currently active construction sites. The guidance does not change the types of construction activities covered by the existing moratorium, issued on March 18. All contractors undertaking construction projects that have received approval from the Inspectional Services Department or the Department of Public Works to work during the Moratorium shall follow the City’s COVID-19 Construction Guidelines, and are strongly urged to review the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Guidelines and Procedures for all Construction Sites and Workers. Inspectional Services or Public Works Departments may shut down job sites that are found to be in violation of the City’s COVID-19 Construction Guidelines.Additionally, larger construction sites may require more elaborate reports and worker training plans.

COVID 19 Update: Governor Limits Essential Construction to Housing & Infrastructure, Extends Non-Essential Business Closures

Today Governor Charlie Baker extended his emergency order to close non-essential businesses and his stay-at-home advisory until May 4. It requires all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public.  In addition, the Administration also updated the “COVID-19 Essential Services” categories. Of interest to NAIOP members, the list of “essential” construction related activities was modified so that only construction related to housing (including mixed use with housing) and critical infrastructure are now considered “essential.”  

The revised construction-related activities list is as follows:

-Workers performing housing construction related activities, including construction of mixed-use projects that include housing, to ensure additional units can be made available to combat the Commonwealth’s existing housing supply shortage.

Workers supporting the construction of housing, including those supporting government functions related to the building and development process, such as inspections, permitting and plan review services that can be modified to protect the public health, including allowing qualified private third-party inspections accountable to government agencies.

-Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, builders, contractors, HVAC Technicians, landscapers, inspectors and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, businesses and buildings such as hospitals, health care facilities, senior living facilities, and any temporary construction required to support COVID-19 response.

-Workers – including contracted vendors – who support the operation, inspection, maintenance and repair of essential public works facilities and operations, including roads and bridges, water and sewer, laboratories, fleet maintenance personnel, construction of critical or strategic infrastructure, traffic signal maintenance, emergency location services for buried utilities, and maintenance of digital systems infrastructure supporting public works operations. Critical or strategic infrastructure includes public works construction including construction of public schools, colleges and universities and construction of state facilities, including leased space, managed by the Division of Capital Asset Management; airport operations; water and sewer; gas, electrical, nuclear, oil refining and other critical energy services; roads and highways; public transportation; steam; solid waste and recycling collection and removal; and internet and telecommunications systems (including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services).

-Workers who support infrastructure, such as by road and line clearing and utility relocation, to ensure the availability of and access to needed facilities, transportation, energy and communications.   The previous definition of construction workers was as follows: “

Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction)”.

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

To win over Amazon, it’s all about the people

This post originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal.

Since Amazon announced its plans to open a second headquarters location, the region has been abuzz, but, to date, the focus has been on real estate. Where can 8 million square feet of space be developed? Does it need to be in one location or multiple sites?

Amazon, however, is not really looking for space. It is looking for people. These are the skilled workers that fuel the local economy, due to the region’s exceptional ability to attract students and immigrants.

So, while we are spending so much time and effort to present the best site for Amazon’s real estate decision makers, we had better be equally as focused contemplating the human resource side. Where will Amazon’s workers come from? Will they be relocating from other areas around the country?

Reality paints a different picture. Other than the post 2009 recession years, Massachusetts has experienced consistent net domestic migration. We are currently close to full employment. There are few workers available and qualified for the jobs that are currently open. Therefore, it’s more likely that these Amazon workers will come from other local companies. The critical question is how will those companies survive and grow with an even tighter job market? Will they, in turn, be forced to relocate?

To make matters even more complex and challenging, there is a multiplier effect with a company like Amazon establishing a major local presence. Other companies will look to locate near this “mother ship” and many of the service companies in the area will have to bulk up to handle the additional demand. As a result, there may be a need for upwards of 150,000 more positions to fill over the next 10+ years.

The dog that chases the car, but then catches it, had better have a plan for what happens next. If we are serious about getting Amazon to choose Massachusetts, let’s strategize about what it would take to actually increase our labor force. As with the Olympics, planning for the possibility of success can be a beneficial, long term, strategic exercise. In any case, we should prepare ourselves for sustainable growth, whether, or not, any individual company locates here.

Three strategies for retaining more skilled workers and attracting others to come here should be pursued. The first deals with the issue of the high cost of living. The second is job training/retraining. The last is immigration policy.

The primary component of the cost of living is housing. We need to produce more affordable, urban housing, and also open up opportunities for “starter homes” for families in communities that are accessible to the new jobs and with good school systems. Schools, commuting time, and affordability are what drive home purchases (particularly for families). Unfortunately, local zoning in most of the Commonwealth discourages multi-family housing, as well as smaller, denser single-family homes.

As for job training, we will need to adapt our institutions and training pathways to help workers acquire new skills. We have not been sufficiently agile to respond to the needs of those businesses that are expanding and hiring. Even a college degree is not sufficient to guarantee a new job in the new economy. New training methods that can be adapted and adjusted in short order will be needed to fine tune a prospect’s skill set to match a company’s requirements. Lifelong learning that is priced right, available on demand, and responsive to the changing needs of the workplace must become the norm.

Finally, we have benefited greatly by the historic flow of immigrants. Were it not for immigration, we would not have accommodated the strong economic growth over the last 20 years. Local and state leaders must flex their political muscles to ensure that our national policies do not impede the beneficial impact that comes from a wide range of skills entering and fueling our economy.

Yes, we can benefit from a thoughtful strategy to attract Amazon to our region. But, over time, we will be well served with a realistic plan to increase our skilled workforce that will be the honey that easily attracts many more companies to locate and expand here.

Welcome to Your New Home, General Electric

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The Greater Boston region’s research and higher education institutions are the envy of most of the world. While financial incentives helped seal the General Electric deal, this was not a cost-driven determination. It was a desire by the company to be housed in an innovation ecosystem that can provide the highest levels of skilled talent and technology. And, as a company doing business worldwide, GE will become an integral part of the local culture that successfully produces new ideas, products and technologies.

Kudos to Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh! This is a clear endorsement for the Commonwealth’s and the City‘s ability to market the region and all it has to offer to a business that could have relocated anywhere in the country (even in locations that could have provided greater financial incentives). The Legislature also deserves recognition for the important economic development bills passed over the last 6 years, which provided many of the tools needed to attract and close the deal with GE.

We may not have an Olympics here in Boston to remind the world that we are a global leader, but we do have the vote of a $130 billion high-tech industrial company (the 8th largest U.S. corporation) who will bring over 800 jobs to the “Innovation” Seaport District. Welcome home, General Electric.