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. 

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

By Tamara Small

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

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

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

Public and PrivateSector Collaboration  

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

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

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

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

Legislative Compromise  

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

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

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

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

Examples of Leadership 

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

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

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

COVID 19 Update: Permit Tolling Legislation Filed Today & FAQ on Essential Services

Permit Tolling Bill Filed Today
Today Governor Baker filed HD4974, An Act to Further Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities, School Districts, and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19. While the bill addresses several topics, Section 9 of the bill addresses the tolling of permits. The language included in the bill is the result of a collaborative effort and many hours of work during the past few days between NAIOP Massachusetts, the Mass Municipal Association and the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of MA.   Specifically, the language provides the following:

– No permit is automatically granted, approved, or denied because a local permitting authority does not act within a time period required by law.
– Any permit that is currently valid will not lapse or expire during the state of emergency, and suspends any time limitation on such permits during the emergency.
– Allows applications for permits to be filed electronically, so as to eliminate the need for in-person filing.
– Suspends any requirement that a hearing on a permit application be held within a certain period of time until 45 days after the end of the state of emergency.  

These changes will provide 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 not impaired by the emergency. We are pushing for quick passage of this bill and we are incredibly grateful to a phenomenal team of NAIOP members who worked tirelessly to perfect this language and reach a compromise. We will keep you posted as this bill advances. In addition, we are pursuing numerous other forms of legislative and regulatory relief. Please contact us if you have any questions or ideas.  

Non-Essential vs. Essential Businesses: FAQ Now Available  
Yesterday Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring 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 as of Tuesday, March 24th at noon until Tuesday, April 7th at noon. These businesses are encouraged to continue operations remotely.  NAIOP has been inundated with requests from professionals who are not specifically listed. The Administration has launched an FAQ page to address some of the most commonly asked questions.  

In addition, if the function of your business is not listed as essential, but you believe that it is essential or it is an entity providing essential services or functions, you may request designation as an essential business. Requests by businesses to be designated an essential function should only be made if they are NOT covered by the guidance. To request designation as an essential business, please click here  Any questions can be directed to covid19.biz@mass.gov  

Construction Moratoriums Continue & Conflict with Executive Order?
Last night, Somerville ordered all construction projects to cease general operations, establish services necessary for in-use buildings to function, and make their sites safe to the general public by Friday, March 27.  Somerville now joins Boston, Cambridge, and numerous other cities and towns that have put construction moratoriums in place.

We have received numerous requests for clarification on how the Essential Services list, which lists as essential:  “Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction)” and “Workers to ensure continuity of building functions, including local and state inspectors and administrative support of inspection services who are responsible for the inspection of elevators, escalators, lifts, buildings, plumbing and gas fitting, electrical work, and other safety related professional work”should be interpreted in communities where there is a construction moratorium.   

As of March 23, Mayor Walsh and the BPDA made it clear that they do not plan to lift the moratorium. However, given the sheer volume of questions on this issue and the confusion that exists, we have reached out to the Baker-Polito Administration for guidance on this issue.

E-Notary Legislation Filed
Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states that does not allow for e-notarization. On Friday, SD2882, An Act Relative to Remote Notarization During COVID-19 State of Emergency was filed to allow for e-notarization until 3 days after the emergency declaration is lifted. The Real Estate Bar Association has been the lead on this issue, but NAIOP is supportive of the legislation and will be advocating for its passage.

My Top Ten Predictions for 2019

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

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

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

Ridesharing May be Saved by Technology

RideshareThe Clean Air Act was created to respond to the ever-increasing air pollution that has come from industrial expansion and a reliance on fossil fuels for energy and transportation. Automobiles are a major source of air pollution (e.g. hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide). It is estimated that road traffic accounts for about 40 percent of the pollution that contributes to ground-level ozone (the main ingredient in smog).

Single occupancy vehicles have long dominated the roadways, especially for commuters. In an effort to reduce pollution, states, like Massachusetts, have adopted Rideshare Programs. Ridesharing is the sharing of vehicles by passengers to reduce vehicle trips, traffic congestion and automobile emissions. Ridesharing (carpooling, vanpooling, public transport), as well as bicycle commuting and walking, are all goals of these programs.

Locally, the idea has been for Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to work with large employers (with more than 1,000 employees) to promote commuting options. The program depends on corporate surveys of worker commuter patterns, providing a menu of commuting options, offering incentives, and documenting the resulting annual changes in patterns, hopefully to successfully meet a specific performance goal of reducing by 25 percent the number of times commuters drive alone to work.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, these programs have had limited success, but continue to burden the employer with annual compliance costs. Part of the problem has always been the difficulty of organizing car-pooling and the uncertainties due to the drivers’ and passengers’ daily schedules.

We are all getting accustomed to technology searching for logistical problems to solve. The ridesharing conundrum is one of those problems and “real-time ridesharing” are the solutions beginning to be provided by Transportation Network Companies, such as LyftUber and Sidecar. These companies, with their mobile apps, arrange one-time rides on an on-demand basis.

Both Lyft (Lyft Line) and Uber have now introduced a carpooling service in Boston. Passengers along a route get in the car at a price cheaper than the ride-for-hire alternative. The trip has to maintain its original route as it picks up other customers, who have to be ready immediately to get in the car when it arrives for them.

Although this service is currently limited to the Boston/Cambridge market, there is no question that an expansion of this service into the suburban market is inevitable.

It is also not very difficult to foresee an app that allows single occupancy drivers to easily connect with fellow commuters heading in the same direction, on a ride by ride basis. With no long-term commitments and many scheduling alternatives available, it seems like an easy fix. Yeah, we’ve got an app for that!

Social Media in the Real Estate Industry

The real estate industry is all about people. Whether you’re a developer working to find an investor or a leasing agent trying to reach potential tenants during lease-up, real estate professionals are all looking to make the personal connections that are vital to success in the industry.

Social media in an incredible tool for reaching the people who drive the real estate industry. NAIOP Massachusetts, in partnership with communications firm Solomon McCown & Company, surveyed more than 100 real estate professionals in June 2015 on how they use social media for their business. How do architects, construction professionals, brokers, developers and professionals in all aspects of the business use digital communication tools? Here are the key takeaways from our survey.

LinkedIn is the most popular social media platform for real estate professionals (Tweet this!), with 52.3 percent of those polled saying they use it. Facebook was a distant second place, with 20 percent of professionals saying they use the world’s largest social media network.

Only 6.5 percent of those surveyed said they don’t use social media for personal or professional use. (Tweet this!) It’s clear that professionals in all areas of the industry are active on social channels.

81 percent of professionals in the real estate industry access social media networks on mobile devices. (Tweet this!)

Social media isn’t just used by young professionals. (Tweet this!) While nearly 81 percent of 21-30 year olds in our survey say they use social media both personally and professionally, 66.7 percent of 61-70 year olds also use digital communication tools.

100 percent of real estate brokers surveyed believe social media helps them to do their jobs. (Tweet this!) The only differentiation is to what degree social media is helpful: 61.9 percent of brokers consider social media to be very helpful, while 38.1% consider it somewhat helpful.

89 percent of brokers surveyed have found new leads through social media. (Tweet this!) No wonder 100 percent of brokers say that social media helps them in their professional lives!

One-third of real estate owners say they only use social media a few times a year. (Tweet this!) A scant 22 percent of owners say they understand social media enough to do it in-house at their companies. (What a missed opportunity!)

How do professionals measure success? In our poll, 65 percent of respondents said that engagement with their target audience was the most important goal for their social media campaign. Sourcing new leads was the primary indicator of success for 26 percent of those surveyed.

Take a deep dive into the data unearthed by the NAIOP/Solomon McCown survey in the infographic below.

SMC-NAIOP_SocialMediaRE-infographic

My Top Ten Predictions for 2015

2015It is that time of year when we try to look forward and plan accordingly. For the commercial real estate industry coming off a rather good year, we have to wonder if we are at the top or still growing?

Here are my predictions for the coming year:
1. Foreign buyers will outspend domestic investors for Boston and Cambridge properties and will make a dent in some communities along 128 (e.g. Burlington and Waltham). They will also be a major buyer of Boston condos.

2. Boston properties will be seeing a record number of office properties changing hands with some of those properties having already transferred ownership within the last 3 years.

3. No surprise that office rental rates in Boston and the surrounding areas will be increasing. I predict a minimum of 10% over this year. Apartment rents will continue to rise with some resistance in the newest buildings.

4. The Wynn Casino construction project will not be starting in 2015.

5. There will be one speculative office building announced in Cambridge, that’s it.

6. Design firms will have their busiest year renovating spaces and providing greater efficiency for existing tenants.

7. Construction costs are going to be up substantially, especially in downtown Boston, with greater difficulties getting multiple competitive subcontractor bids.

8. Boston will experience a major hurricane this coming Fall with substantial flooding due to storm surge.

9. The Federal Reserve will finally raise rates.

10. Boston will be selected by the US Olympic Committee to represent the US bid for the Summer Olympics.

We Need Jobs, But Also Skilled Workers

computer_handsThe Boston Globe recently reported that “the state’s tech sector is growing fast, but a shortage of qualified workers is preventing Massachusetts from becoming the capital of the nation’s innovation economy”, according to the 2014 State of Technology Report released by the Mass Technology Leadership Council. “Creating the jobs isn’t the hard part – filling them is the hard part,” said Tom Hopcroft, chief executive of MassTLC. “We can’t find enough people with the skills to fill all of these tech jobs.”

These are not the only types of jobs that remain open according to this Boston Globe graphic, which shows that it is not just the high end tech jobs that are having trouble finding workers.

So, what is worse – not having the jobs, or not being able to provide the workers for those companies that are expanding? It should be the former.  Trying to create new jobs is not only difficult, but there is actually no proven way to do it.  If what we have is a gap in training, or the proper transportation to access trained workers, we should be able to remedy that.

Local and state government should be partnering with local community colleges, vocational schools, and universities to work directly with those businesses that are fortunate enough to be growing and hiring.  If we don’t fix this imbalance expeditiously, we may have bigger problems.  Companies will begin expanding elsewhere and, then not having any local jobs to fill would be a lot worse.

Floods and Hope in Vermont

I was in Vermont when Irene hit and the devastation that resulted is hard to fully comprehend.  We have certainly had our share of storms and Nor’easters, but it wasn’t the high winds that were the problem – it was the flooding of most every river in the state.

Waitsfield, VT Begins Clean Up

Rivers became lakes, overflowing across roadways, through homes and businesses, hitting owners – few of them with flood insurance.  Flooding is not a normal event here – they call this a “500 year” storm!

Bridges were washed away and roads disappeared.  In our town of Waitsfield, the river rose almost 20 feet and undermined the historic covered bridge.  A key historic building that lost its foundation may be condemned.  The flood ran through the local stores, leaving behind 4-6 inches of sludge and an unhealthy film on everything inside.

But on Monday morning, under a bright sun, hundreds of volunteers in Waitsfield and Warren lined up to help.  (And I know that this was the case throughout the state.) Fulltime residents and vacationers joined together to help by emptying homes and businesses of endless buckets of sludge and all sorts of debris.  People worked to scrape away the muck from the streets.  This work has continued and a headquarters has been established in the center of town for volunteers to find out where they are needed next.

It is frustrating to see so many suffer through a natural disaster like this, but it is also inspirational to see the unrestrained community response of neighbors, friends, and visitors.  I don’t know if all of the businesses will be able to recover from this setback, but for those that do,  it would not have been possible without the help they received from these generous volunteers.

NAIOP Brings the Heat to End Homelessness

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

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

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

In 2010, Heading Home:

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

The Heading Home Formula:

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

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

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