Legislative Update: Issues Affecting CRE on Beacon Hill


Coasting past a February 7th deadline to advance, retract, or postpone action on the 7,300 bills filed this session, Massachusetts legislators are now meeting through July 31, at which point they will break for the summer and the fall campaign cycle.

As NAIOP expected, several opportunities and threats made it through the deadline set for legislative committees to report out bills to the legislature, including the following:

Housing Choice Initiative

Having unveiled the Housing Choice Initiative with broad-based support in December, Governor Baker used his January State of the Commonwealth speech to highlight the Administration’s plan to spur housing production. The Governor’s legislative package, supported by NAIOP, received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Housing in February. H.4075 is expected to now move to the House Committee on Ways & Means. Under the legislation, numerous local zoning changes, including the adoption of a 40R district, reduced parking ratios or mixed-use zoning, among others, would require only a majority vote of the local legislative body instead of a supermajority. NAIOP believes this bill, combined with the Housing Choice Designation for municipalities that prioritize housing production, and the Housing Bond Bill (referenced below) are important tools for addressing the Commonwealth’s housing crisis. NAIOP will continue to work to advance this much-needed legislation.

Problematic Zoning Legislation

Smart growth advocates and environmental groups remain committed to Senate Bill 81 and House Bill 2420, the zoning bills that are strongly opposed by the real estate industry. Both of the bills were granted an extension order to March 7. NAIOP, working with a broad real estate coalition, continues to educate lawmakers about the problematic provisions of the bills – particularly language that would hinder the production of housing in Massachusetts. Now that new Senate President Harriette Chandler has indicated that affordable housing is a top priority, NAIOP is advocating that the Governor’s approach is the best path forward for the Commonwealth and will continue to oppose any efforts to combine the Governor’s bill and the zoning bills.

Wage Theft

Wage theft is a serious matter and those who intentionally violate wage theft laws should be held accountable. Unfortunately, two wage theft bills (Senate Bill 999 and House Bill 1033), while well-intended, go after employers who are following the rules and doing the right thing. The bills penalize those who inadvertently do business with a firm that has committed a wage violation, through the imposition of vicarious liability (something that no other state imposes). The legislation would affect anyone involved in construction and development, but it would also have a huge impact on all businesses. It would apply equally to hospitals, universities, and businesses, large and small, that outsource aspects of their operations to other companies or “contractors.”  The financial impact could be severe. Both of the bills were given an extension order until March 7.

NAIOP is part of a large business coalition that is deeply concerned with the impact these bills could have on the Massachusetts economy. Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Paul Brodeur created a wage theft working group, which includes representatives from both sides of the issue. The group has met several times and we will continue to offer up alternative solutions to addressing the issue of wage theft and we will continue to oppose any wage theft bill that would include vicarious liability.

Housing Bond Bill & Brownfields Tax Credit

In January, the House passed a $1.7 billion housing bond bill, which contains numerous provisions supported by NAIOP.  It includes an extension of the soon-to-expire Brownfields Tax Credit and extends the authorization of other tax credits including the state’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and the Community Investment Tax Credit.  The bill is now before the Senate Committee on Bonding, which held a hearing on it last week. NAIOP will continue to advocate for quick passage of this important legislation.

A potential economic development bill, an omnibus energy bill, and countless other bills are also on NAIOP’s radar. In the next five months, NAIOP will continue to fight for legislation that encourages economic development and supports the commercial real estate industry.  If there are issues of interest to you or your firm, please contact NAIOP’s Government Affairs Team.

NAIOP Supports Baker-Polito Housing Legislation

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.

A Housing Plan That Works

The business community is generally a bit skeptical when it comes to grand plans to cure critical deficiencies in the marketplace. One of the most pressing problems for Boston, and many other major cities around the country, is the lack of affordable housing and the inflationary pressures on existing housing stock. In 2014, Mayor Marty Walsh commissioned a new housing plan to confront the city’s problem of a population growth outpacing its production of housing.

The plan that resulted set a target of 53,000 new housing units to help rebalance the market and decrease the pressure on rents and housing prices in the city’s older (and more affordable) housing stock.

Through a cross department plan allowing for streamlined and expedited permitting, expanding the offerings of city-owned real estate, promoting innovation in housing production, and adding significant resources to housing production, the city has worked collaboratively with the development community to achieve real, measurable success.

Through December 2016, nearly 20,000 units were either completed or in construction. Over 21,000 units are currently in the permitting process. Housing unit completions have finally outpaced the city’s population growth.

Has the housing plan worked? For the first time in many years, rents in older units decreased or stabilized in the neighborhoods with the most new development in the past 5 years. The sharpest decreases were with studios and one bedrooms, with two bedroom units seeing modest decreases and three bedrooms rents stabilizing.

It is a serious challenge to develop a program to create new affordable, work-force housing without deep subsidies. However, we can now see that producing new market rate units can actually dampen the inflationary trends for the existing older housing stock. As long as the city can continue to work closely with the development community to keep the housing pipeline flowing, we may be able to keep Boston accessible to everyone.

With the Boston CPA Approved, How Should the Program be Administered?

Boston residents voted to adopt the Community Preservation Act by an overwhelming majority in November. The CPA is designed to create affordable housing, and preserve open space and historic sites through the creation of a local Community Preservation Fund. A one percent real estate tax surcharge on commercial and residential properties will go into this fund and will be administered by a nine-member Community Preservation Committee appointed by the city. Of the money generated by the CPA, at least 10 percent must be allocated to housing, 10 percent to open spaces, and 10 percent to historic preservation. The remaining 70 percent can be allocated to any one of those three uses at a different rate.

The City Council is responsible for creating the ordinance that will establish the Community Preservation Committee (CPC). The ordinance would establish the CPC’s composition, length of member terms, the method of selecting its members, and outline the responsibilities of the CPC.

NAIOP suggests that the CPC could be tasked with establishing the annual percentage allocations among the three categories of investments. Those budgets could then be provided to the City agencies best positioned, staffed, and experienced to review the proposals submitted through a “Request For Proposals” (RFP) process. The agencies’ recommendations for grants could then be reviewed by the CPC prior to submission to the Mayor and the City Council for final approval. This system would utilize the established expertise within the City agencies, rather than creating a parallel “review process” that might be limited by staffing and funding.

With respect to housing, it would be unusual for a CPC grant to be sufficient to fund new housing, rather than being a gap participant in the more complex financing structure. In that case, the Department of Neighborhood Development would be better suited to determine where these funds could best leverage the most housing (a similar arrangement exists under Somerville’s CPA). Again, their recommendations would still need to be approved by the City Council and the Mayor.

As with any new program, the devil is in the details.  For this to succeed, it is essential for the City to develop a rational, transparent, and cost effective process. Only then will the CPA be of the greatest good to Boston.

As Boston Proposes CPA, Issues to Consider

The Boston City Council’s Committee on Government Operations scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, March 29 to discuss the city’s adoption of the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act (CPA). If approved by the City Council to move forward, the question would be put to the voters of Boston on this November’s ballot. This would result in a 1% property tax surcharge on commercial and residential properties starting in fiscal year 2018 (with the first $100,000 in value exempt as well as a 100% exemption for those who qualify for low-income housing or low or moderate income senior housing). Communities that adopt the CPA can decide on the distribution of funds across the three areas covered under the CPA, as long as each area – open space, historic preservation and affordable housing – receives at least 10 percent of the total available.

The Mayor has released a comprehensive housing plan for Boston, including objectives to produce 53,000 new units of housing. The report, Housing a Changing City – Boston 2030, estimates the CPA would generate $20 million annually, including state matching funds, of which 50% or $10 million would be dedicated to new housing funds. There is no question that Mayor Walsh and his team are very committed to providing affordable and middle income housing, as confirmed by the various initiatives the Administration has advanced in recent months.

The business community is also concerned about the lack of workforce housing.  Without housing that can be affordable to working individuals, couples and families, the region will not be able to maintain the exceptional economic growth it is currently experiencing. However, as City Council considers putting this on the ballot, a few questions should be asked and answered:

  • How much of these funds will end up supporting middle income housing? With a statutory requirement that housing produced under the CPA be for persons and families whose income is less than 100% of the AMI, it is unclear how middle income housing would be created. Furthermore, the independent CPA committee that will oversee the use of CPA funds is free to spend these funds in any of the three prescribed uses (beyond the 10% statutory requirement).
  • There is no requirement for the City to detail exactly how the CPA funds will be used to attain its goals. One would think that the days of throwing money at a problem and hoping for a good outcome are in the past. The MBTA operated like that for years, and we are seeing the results very clearly. What exactly is the plan to produce more affordable and workforce housing with this additional revenue?
  • How much of an impact will the CPA make? Preliminary estimates show that if half of the CPA funds ($10 million) were used for traditional affordable housing, there would only be 40-50 units built in a year. That is helpful, but is it worth it to impose new taxes on residential and commercial properties? The last time the CPA was proposed in Boston, it was estimated that the business community would be paying 81% of the total, as a consequence of real estate tax classification and the residential exemption. In addition, the City has also increased the requirements for new developments under the Inclusionary Development Policy and higher linkage payments for new commercial development are coming.

As a result of the recent building boom, the city’s revenue from real estate taxes is the largest in history. While having more money from the CPA for the City sounds great, the costs and benefits must be weighed before making this decision.

Speaking of Real Estate

NAIOP Massachusetts is kicking off a video series we will be calling “Speaking of Real Estate”.

The idea behind this effort is to interview leaders in the commercial real estate industry, including developers, owners, investors, as well as some of the heads of the major professional service firms that support our business.

We are starting with a very candid discussion between Tom Alperin, President, National Development and Marc Margulies, Founder and Principal, Margulies Perruzzi Architects. They cover a range of topics that include affordable housing, new design considerations, shared economy, and looking to the future for the industry.

We plan on bringing you the opportunity to hear from individuals that are in the forefront of creating our new urban and suburban “live, work and play” environments. Who are some CRE leaders you would like to hear from in this series? Let us know in the comments section below.

Housing Costs May Cost Us Our Young Talent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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