COVID-19 UPDATE: Municipalities Receive New Guidance for Project Review; Governor Baker Files Revised Budget Proposal; Eviction Moratorium Ending Oct. 17; Mayor Announces Housing Stability Pledge for Landlords

This week there were several actions taken regarding the state’s COVID-19 response.

NAIOP Advocacy Results in New Guidance, Proposed Legislative Fix

Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020, An Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19, was enacted in April to alleviate challenges faced by municipalities as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. NAIOP, together with the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the Home Builders and Remodelers of Massachusetts, worked to ensure that this legislation provided permit granting bodies with the authority they needed to conduct meetings and public hearings remotely.

Late last week, in response to concerns NAIOP and others have raised regarding certain municipalities’ reticence to restart public meetings, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) released official guidance for municipalities, urging them to conduct remote hearings on all applications for permits or approvals related to housing production, and reinforces that all remote hearings should be implemented in a fair manner for all types of housing, in particular referencing 40B projects.

Additionally, the Baker-Polito Administration has included language in their proposed supplemental budget to end all municipal hearing delays as allowed by Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020 on December 1, 2020. This proposed legislation is a direct result of NAIOP’s advocacy, and we will continue to monitor the language as it moves through the supplemental budget process.

Governor Files Amended FY21 Budget

On October 14, Governor Baker filed a revised budget proposal for fiscal year 2021. The revised proposal includes over $100 million to support economic development and small business efforts as the Commonwealth continues to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor’s budget proposes a total of $45.5 billion in gross spending, and authorizes a withdrawal of up to $1.35 million from the Stabilization Fund. In order to avoid further burdening businesses and residents during the ongoing crisis, the Governor’s budget does not include any broad-based tax increases and he has signaled he will veto tax hikes if pursued by the Legislature. 

NAIOP is currently reviewing the Governor’s proposal and will be closely monitoring the budget process.

Eviction Moratorium to Expire – New Resources Announced

The Commonwealth’s eviction moratorium, which applies to residential tenants and small businesses, will expire on October 17. Earlier this week, the Baker-Polito Administration announced a comprehensive set of resources, known as the Eviction Diversion Initiative, to support residential tenants and property owners during the financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. NAIOP is supportive of this comprehensive approach to working with owners and tenants to provide critical resources to ensure housing stability. 

The Administration is making a $171 million total commitment this fiscal year, with $112 million of new funding to support new and expanded housing stability programs during the remainder of the fiscal year. Learn more about these resources here.

Mayor Walsh Announces Housing Stability Pledge

Last week, Mayor Walsh announced the creation of the Housing Stability Pledge for landlords. The Pledge, aimed to deter residential evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, requires landlords to abide by the current CDC Eviction Order; engage with tenants to create a payment plan; accept rental assistance where available; and make rent adjustments for Section 8/MRVP families who are falling behind on their rent. This is an opt-in program for residential landlords located within the City of Boston.

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. 

Office Space: Dead on Arrival or a New Frontier?

Tenants Are Getting a Crash Course in Remote Work’s Pluses and Minuses

Written by: Tamara Small | This article was originally published by Banker & Tradesman on October 4, 2020

As we approach the seven–month mark since the state of emergency was declared and office workers transitioned to Work from Home (WFH) overnight, many people are asking the same question: Will workers return to the office?  

A review of statistics paints a bleak picture. Office sublease space is at a record high. Occupancy rates in Boston and Cambridge remain in the single digits, while in the suburbs, it’s about a 10 percent occupancy rate. Companies that once said they would come back after Labor Day are now pushing tentative return dates out to January or well into 2021. We have seen the largest quarterly increase in vacancy rates since the fourth quarter of 2001.  

Given the uncertainty about what is to come, few transactions are happening. Rents are beginning to drop and short–term leases, once unheard of, are becoming much more common. Small businesses that support office workers from dry cleaners, to sandwich shops, to shoemakers remain closed. The economic impact cannot be overstated.  

Eric Rosengren, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, recently commented on the impact of so many empty office buildings.  

“It’s going to be very difficult for Massachusetts to fully recover until Boston fully recovers,” he said. “And a full recovery in Boston requires people to occupy the office buildings we have downtown.” 

However, we are now starting to see more people return, slowly, but surely, to their offices. And, when there is a vaccine, and children return to school and daycare, and commuters get back on public transit, as an industry we will have a unique opportunity to use what we have learned during this time to make offices better than ever. But what do we do in the meantime? 

While only 4 in 10 Americans can work from home, for those who have that privilege, the overnight transition to WFH was fairly seamless. Many companies who had never offered WFH as an option realized that work can, and will, get done remotely. Technology experts have become the glue that holds the office together – constantly adapting and innovating to accommodate cybersecurity, equity and access challenges.  

Tenants Discover Downsides 

There is a lot of positive that came out of this overnight shift. Several studies show that by eliminating commutes, some workers have gained invaluable personal time. Traffic congestion in our cities has improved dramatically, and many municipalities are expanding their alternative transit options, adding bike lanes and expanding walking paths to encourage outdoor activity. 

However, the longer WFH continues, the more we start to hear about its negative impacts.  

First, the boundaries between work and home have blurred. People are working more, and they are exhausted.  

Second, onboarding and mentorship are suffering. Bringing a new person onto a team that is completely remote is extremely challenging, as is mentoring a more junior employee or intern.  

Third, and most importantly, the collaboration and personal connections that shape successful office culture are difficult to replicate in a remote world. Remote work prevents learning by osmosis and diminishes opportunities for teamwork by eliminating those invaluable five-minute conversations that engage people across teams and disciplines. This has a significant impact on employees, particularly those new to the workforce.  

A recent study of employers by MassDOT/MBTA shows that very few companies plan to switch to WFH entirely when the world returns to “normal”:  52 percent of employers surveyed will send all employees back to the office;  41 percent will send some employees; and only 3 percent will remain full-time WFH.  

Embrace Office Innovation 

Clearly, employees will come back to the office, but work from home is here to stay. People want flexibility, but also some human interaction and collaboration. Are our office spaces ready to rise to the challenge? In short, yes. I predict employers will increasingly adopt a hybrid model that includes some remote and some in–person days. This means a total revision of what office space looks like, how it works, and how employees interact.   

A new and revived office sector will include an increased focus on wellness, collaboration, technology, and community. These components are critical as space becomes more fluid and flexible.  

At a recent NAIOP event, a panel of local experts shared what they are already beginning to see for the future of the office. Elizabeth Lowrey of Elkus Manfredi said, “the days of stack–and–pack are over.” Vickie Alani of CBT shared that we will likely see home offices remain dedicated spaces for focused work, while office spaces will be designed to enable remote and in–person collaboration. Kimberly Smith of Knoll focused on the enhanced role of technology to ensure that people at home and at the office “have an equitable experience in their office interactions.” And moderator Lauren Vecchione of Colliers Boston summed it up with the following statement: “If you take anything away from the discussion today, it should be that employees will come back to the office.” 

So, while the next few months may be a challenge, now is not the time to ring the death knell for the office sector. Instead, it’s time for CRE to embrace innovation and give the people what they want – a new and improved office for the next generation, today.

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 Update: Boston Announces Incremental Start to Construction

On May 5, City of Boston announced it will be taking an incremental approach to broadening the allowable categories of construction. Effective May 5, all essential construction projects (as defined by the state, which currently means residential, hospitals, public schools, mixed use with residential, public works and construction related to COVID-19) with approved safety plans and signed affidavits as required under the COVID-19 Safety Policy for Construction will be authorized to prepare the site with project specific COVID-19 safety measures.

As of May 18, the City of Boston will allow a subset of essential 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 essential construction projects as defined by the state may re-commence construction in adherence to safety plans.

At no time will the City of Boston permit any construction beyond what is allowed by the Commonwealth. DPW and ISD will continue to monitor and enforce the COVID-19 Safety Plans for Construction. In accordance with the signed affidavit, contractors acknowledge and agree that non-compliance with any requirements may result in suspension of termination of work in progress of revocation of the City’s permit for such work.

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 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: 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)”.

COVID 19 Update: State Permits Extended by Executive Order

Today Governor Baker issued an Executive Order to suspend relevant permitting deadlines and extend out the validity of state permits. It applies to a wide range of state approvals and clarifies that all approvals shall toll during the State of Emergency. It shall remain in effect until rescinded or until the state of emergency is terminated, whichever happens first.

NAIOP is extremely grateful to the Baker-Polito Administration for recognizing the need for this language during these uncertain times.  

Language dealing with municipal approvals, which is supported by NAIOP and the Mass Municipal Association, is addressed in H.4586, which we urge the legislature to advance to ensure predictability for both municipalities and developers.  

COVID-19 UPDATE: MAYOR WALSH EXTENDS ORDER PAUSING NON-ESSENTIAL CONSTRUCTION WORK IN THE CITY OF BOSTON

The following is a press release from the Office of Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh (March 25, 2020)

BOSTON – Wednesday, March 25, 2020 – Due to the public health emergency caused by the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced he is affirmatively extending the City of Boston’s order to pause non-essential construction for City of Boston permitted sites. Mayor Walsh first announced this order on March 16, 2020, and sites should have been locked down for safety by March 23. Due to the public health emergency in Boston and across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this pause is still in effect until further notice.   

“The safety and health of construction workers and all residents of Boston is my first priority, and I am not willing to put that at risk as the virus spreads throughout our communities,” said Mayor Walsh. “Large gatherings such as those at construction sites have been proven to escalate the spread of the virus, and Boston must do everything in its power to flatten the curve, and stop the spread of coronavirus.”   

Mayor Walsh is working with various partners including construction firms and the building trades to determine protocols that would allow these sites to safely re-open in Boston.    This policy only applies to projects permitted by the City of Boston. The City will still allow work that is essential to the safety and well-being of Boston’s residents at this time, particularly work related to the COVID-19 public health crisis.  

In addition to these construction projects, the City will, on a case-by-case basis, review requests for exemptions to the temporary construction moratorium. These may be granted by the Commissioner of Inspectional Services (ISDCommissioner@boston.gov) for building-related work or the Commissioner of Public Works for street-related work. These will be granted if they support increased public health and safety and precautions are taken to mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19 among workers.    

Additional details about the order can be found on boston.gov. The guidance order is available online.  

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COVID 19 Update: Baker Issues Guidance Overturning Local Construction Moratoriums

Today, March 25, Governor Baker issued guidance clarifying that the March 23, 2020 Order “Assuring Continued Operation of Essential Services in the Commonwealth, Closing Certain Workplaces, and Prohibiting Gatherings of More than 10 People” supersedes and makes inoperative any order or rule issued by a municipality that will or might in any way impede or interfere with the achievement of the objectives of this order. “Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects” are deemed essential.

Therefore, “the Order provides that all construction projects are to continue operations during the state of emergency, but to do so with allowance for social distancing protocols consistent with guidance provided by the Department of Public Health. Local policies, regulations or directives that provide otherwise are in direct conflict with the Order and should be withdrawn.”  

NAIOP had urged the Administration to issue guidance given the lack of uniformity across the Commonwealth on this issue and we are grateful for this clarity.