|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.
Governor Baker Announces Phase 3 Start Date
Today Governor Baker announced that Phase 3 will begin on Monday, July 6. While Phase 3 is anticipated to be in place until there is an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, Governor Baker indicated that Phase 3 will be implemented in two steps.
Businesses allowed to reopen at this point in Phase 3 include but are not limited to:
- Fitness Centers and Health Clubs
- Museums and Aquariums
- Movie Theaters and Performance Halls (at limited capacity)
- Casinos (with additional minimum protocols set by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission)
Additionally, the Baker-Polito Administration has updated the guidance related to gatherings. The new guidance related to indoor gatherings will allow eight people per 1000SF, with a maximum of 25 people. Outdoor enclosed gatherings will be limited to 25% of the capacity, with a maximum of 100 people. This updated guidance will be effective Monday, July 6, except for the City of Boston, where it will be implemented Monday, July 13. For all guidance, orders and updates related to the Commonwealth’s reopening plan please visit: www.mass.gov/reopening
Governor Baker Amends State Permit Tolling Order
Importantly, this updated order addressed NAIOP’s significant concerns with the previous order’s appeals language. In the updated order, any individual whose right to appeal would have expired between March 10, 2020 and July 1, 2020 shall have until August 10, 2020 to proceed with their appeal. Any person whose right to appeal expires after July 1, 2020 will be held to the regular or statutory deadline, or by August 10, 2020, whichever is later.
NAIOP advocated strongly for this Executive Order given the extraordinary impact of the previous order on projects throughout the Commonwealth, and we were pleased to see our concerns addressed in the final language. A huge thank you to the NAIOP members who provided their expertise and insight throughout this process.
SJC Releases Updated Order Regarding Court Operations
On June 24, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued an order further staying certain hearings and trials and limiting court house access until at least July 13, 2020. In addition, the order affirmed that there will be no further extensions of deadlines or civil statutes of limitations beyond June 30, 2020, “unless there is a new surge in COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth and the SJC determines a new or extended tolling period is needed) and that appeal periods on local permits will begin to run on July 1, 2020.
DPU Begins Energy Relief Plan for Commercial and Industrial Customers
On June 26, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved the commencement of a program designed to assist companies that have fallen into arrears on gas or electricity payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full implementation of the program will begin after the March 10 State of Emergency is lifted and current customer protections expire. The Customer Outreach Plan will consist of four phases. You can read the full order by clicking here. Any company having trouble paying their electric or gas bills due to COVID-19 should contact their distribution company for further information.
MBTA Announces Five-Day Flex Pass Pilot for Commuter Rail mTicket
Yesterday, July 1, the MBTA began the new Five-day Flex Pass on mTicket pilot, a program designed to allow greater flexibility for commuter rail passengers as employers and employees explore staggered schedules and telework policies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pilot will take place from July 1 – September 30, 2020 and is only available within the mTicket app. Once purchased, the Flex Pass provides five one-day passes that can be used at any time in a 30-day period. This pass, available for all zones and interzones, is a 10% discount when compared to five round-trip tickets.
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.
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.
Construction Moratoriums and Guidance
In recent days, there has been a great deal of confusion over construction moratoriums at the state and local level. We hope the following summary, which reflects the latest information, provides some clarity.
State: On Tuesday, March 31, the Baker-Polito Administration updated the construction related guidance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new guidance limits “essential” construction to housing and critical infrastructure activities. Under the revised list, private nonresidential construction is not considered essential (unless it falls within one of the specified exemptions). As of noon, April 1, only housing projects (including mixed use with housing, infrastructure projects and construction related to COVID-19 can proceed. On April 2, the state updated the FAQ page to answer questions on this issue. The state also issued supplemental guidelines to limit COVID-19 exposures on construction sites and additional guidance outlining the enforcement of COVID-19 safety guidelines. It specifically states that “for all private projects the primary enforcement responsibility rests with the city or town.”
Local: Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, and numerous other cities and towns have issued a halt to all construction until further notice. Companies should maintain the crews necessary to make sure sites are “safe and secure.” On April 5, Mayor Walsh asked that even if a job is one of the few that is allowed to move forward under current guidelines, companies should consider shutting down. In addition, effective April 2, Cambridge issued its own construction guidance
|Commercial and Residential Eviction Moratorium Legislation |
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 provides eviction moratoriums for both commercial and residential tenants. The bill is now before the Senate, where a vote is expected on April 9.
Property Tax Update
As part of Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020, the municipal relief bill signed by Governor Baker on April 3, municipalities are allowed to extend the due date of quarterly taxes to June 1st.
The City of Cambridge announced it is extending the due date for Second Half Real Estate and Property Tax bills until June 1, 2020. In addition, interest and other penalties on late payments made on Excise Tax and water/sewer bills with due dates after March 10, 2020 will be waived if payments are made before June 30, 2020. It is our understanding that this applies to both residential and commercial.
The City of Boston has extended the due date for property tax bills in Boston until June 1st to give residents more flexibility during the ongoing public health crisis caused by COVID-19. It is our understanding this only applies to residential.
BPDA Covid-19 Response
The BPDA is postponing all BPDA-hosted public meetings regarding Article 80 development projects and planning studies until further notice. While projects will continue to be reviewed internally by BPDA staff, the public review process for both Article 80 development projects and the BPDA’s planning studies is on hold until public meetings can be resumed. If you are a landlord or tenant of the BPDA’s housing program, please visit the BPDA’s housing page for information and resources. As the BPDA’s response to Covid-19 continues to evolve, please check this page or follow @bostonplans on Twitter for updated guidance.
COVID-19 Massachusetts Relief Fund
On April 6, Governor Charlie Baker and First Lady Lauren Baker announced the launch of the COVID-19 Massachusetts Relief Fund. It is designed to support organizations assisting Massachusetts’ most vulnerable residents, frontline health care workers, and other essential service providers. Donations are needed and encouraged.
Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito just filed the administration’s Economic Development bill with $1 billion to be invested over the next five years into economic development, housing and job training across the Commonwealth.
A core principal of this legislation is to take various existing programs and make enhancements to them so that they become more widely used, more effective, recapitalized, and more user-friendly:
- MassWorks ($500 million proposed capital authorization): Reauthorizes a capital grant program that provides municipalities and other public entities with public infrastructure grants to support economic development and job creation.
- Brownfields Redevelopment Fund ($75 million proposed capital authorization): Moves funding for the state’s Brownfields Redevelopment Fund to the capital program, providing a reliable long-term funding stream for a fund that is the Commonwealth’s primary tool for facilitating the redevelopment of contaminated properties.
- Housing-Related Tax Increment Financing: Supports housing production in town centers by reforming a seldom-used local-only smart growth tax incentive program, removing onerous regulations, and allowing communities to set their own affordability requirements.
- Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) Reform: Supports the development of market-rate housing in Gateway Cities by allowing credits to support new construction, and by raising the formula that sets housing development incentives.
- I-Cubed Reform: Reforms the I-Cubed infrastructure program by removing unnecessary program requirements (such as eliminating the per-municipality cap on the number of projects that may participate and raising the aggregate limit of funds from the I-cubed program that may be used in any one municipality from 31% to 50%) building flexibility into the program, and aligning program requirements with the demonstrated project pipeline.
- Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) Reforms: Builds accountability in the state’s primary job-creation incentive program by strengthening the link between the issuance of tax credits, and job creation that would not otherwise occur; adds flexibility to the incentive program by eliminating obsolete formula-driven incentive categories, and by creating a new Extraordinary Development Opportunity designation.
In addition, the bill creates two important provisions:
- Site Readiness Fund ($25 million proposed capital authorization): Advances regional job creation by creating a new fund for site assembly and pre-development activities (including site assessment and cleanup) that support regionally significant commercial or industrial development opportunities.
- “Starter Home” Zoning: Incentivizes the creation of smaller, denser, and more affordable single-family homes by creating a new starter home option under the Chapter 40R smart growth housing program. These projects will also allow the municipality to be eligible for school reimbursements under Chapter 40S.
- Parking Management Districts: Aligns local parking policies with broader economic development priorities by enabling municipalities to opt into creating demand-based parking fees, and allowing parking fees to support capital improvements in designated districts, like downtowns.
In addition, there are new programs with a Massachusetts Innovation Initiative, Workforce Development, and Economic Competitiveness.
We are very supportive of the bill, which contains many of NAIOP’s priorities. This legislation will be one of NAIOP’s top priorities for the remainder of the legislative session.