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.

MBTA Control Board’s First Report Shows Urgent Need For Change

The MBTA’s new Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) has just issued its first 60-day report identifying the scope of the challenges facing the T. The GreenLineFMCB has been tasked with identifying and shaping solutions to improve operations and performance. The report is extensive, probing, and extremely candid. The Board members should be congratulated on producing such a clear case for moving from the status quo to a system that is reliable, transparent, and sustainable.

It is no surprise that the some of the underlying problems are even more serious than originally thought. Firstly, the MBTA’s annual operating budget is unsustainable, with expenses increasing at nearly three times the rate of revenue growth. Secondly, annual capital spending on deferred maintenance and capital investment is substantially below the $472 million annual spending needed to prevent the backlog from further increasing. The prolonged under-spending has caused the backlog in capital investment to rise to $7.3 billion. The report states that the management team has committed to ensuring that available capital funds are spent, maintaining the MBTA system at a level that will prevent the backlog from further increasing while improving the overall condition of the system and its facilities as expeditiously as possible.

The FMCB has reported some progress:

• Total Capital spending increased to $740 million in FY2015 and is budgeted to be $1.05 billion in FY2016.
• The MBTA planned, designed, and is executing a Winter Resiliency Plan to better prepare the system to withstand major storms and extended periods of cold.
• The MBTA and Keolis Commuter Services have signed a Performance Improvement Plan and are working to address identified shortfalls in performance.
• The FMCB and MBTA management are developing a strategy to make improvements in the procurement and contracting processes and to review all existing service contracts (e.g., the MBTA issued a Request for Information for the private-sector on some low and moderate ridership bus routes, express bus routes, and late-night bus service).
• The FMCB and MBTA management are focusing on performance metrics to drive improvement in MBTA operational practices and to expand transparency and accountability with the riding public.
• The FMCB and MBTA leadership are also pursuing efforts to increase workforce productivity and to reduce absenteeism among MBTA staff.
• The FMCB is committed to a positive employee engagement program, understanding that morale, sense of mission, clear management and decision-making structures, and workforce investments are all necessary ingredients for any successful organization.

It is very clear to the reader of this report that the work of FMCB has just begun. The goal is to have a transit system that is sustainable and accomplishes its mission. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the MBTA will be operating efficiently. It will certainly take a lot of work by a dedicated management team and workforce. However, there is no alternative. Businesses, residents, and workers must have an MBTA that is reliable.

Making the Olympic Argument with NAIOP: 2024 and Beyond

The following blog post was written by T.J Winick, Vice President at Solomon McCown & Company.

It’s only been about 50 days since the Elisif_20150224_0962United States Olympic Committee officially named Boston as America’s bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Yet it was quite apparent at Tuesday morning’s NAIOP Massachusetts’ Breakfast Panel that Boston 2024 has settled on its pitch to the public: The quest to host the Games is all about “the future of Boston”. The phrase repeated over and over at the event (entitled 2024 Olympics: Vision, Opportunity and a Catalyst for Change) was “2030 and beyond.” As in, “This isn’t about those 30 days in the summer of 2024, it’s about what we want our city to look like in 2030 and beyond.”

Moderator Tom Alperin, President of National Development, remarked, “We can win by losing,” meaning that Boston will benefit from a fierce debate over infrastructure and sustainably whether we’re awarded the games or not. That sentiment was echoed by panelists Rich Davey, CEO of Boston 2024 and former Mass. Secretary of Transportation; David Manfredi of Elkus-Manfredi Architects; David Nagahiro of CBT Architects and Stephen Thomas of VHB. However, winning, as Manfredi noted, is the name of the game.

This was a coming out party of sorts for Davey, who was only recently named CEO of the effort to submit Boston’s bid to the International Olympic Committee. He’s pledging that ours would be a new type of Olympics: Sustainable, largely privately-financed with no cost overruns, and that leaves a positive legacy. He cited a quarter of a billion dollars in foundation grants that have been handed out by Los Angeles over the past 31 years, financed by their hosting the 1984 games. That’s the type of legacy the Boston Games would leave, Davey insists, not the fraud, waste and abuse the anti-Olympics crowd argues would cripple the region.

It was Manfredi’s presentation that focused on real estate: in this case, potential Olympic venues. One of the reasons Boston was chosen to represent America (over New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco) was the viability of hosting the most “walkable” Olympic Games in history, with 28 of the 33 proposed venues within a 10 kilometer radius and an average of 5.3 kilometers between each venue. The Olympic Village, which must house 16,000 individuals, would be built on Columbia Point, which is currently home to UMass Boston. About 5,000-6,000 of those beds would later become UMass student dorms, helping to satisfy the school’s goal of adding student residences. The remainder would be transformed into affordable and workforce housing, helping Mayor Walsh achieve his goal of 53,000 units of new housing by 2030.

David Nagahiro, whose firm CBT is focused on the village, underscored the concept of a sustainable games when he noted that, “UMass students are interchangeable with Olympic athletes” in benefitting from modern dorms and amenities overlooking Boston Harbor and the Harbor Islands. It’s this type of development that would help transform the University, typically thought of as a commuter school, into a more residential campus. Nagahiro, who recently visited London and Barcelona to speak with former Olympic officials there, gushed about long-term benefits enjoyed by the former Olympic hosts. Back in Boston, infrastructure improvements would also mean UMass students would enjoy a new transportation “Superhub” at the JFK-UMass Stop along the MBTA’s Red Line.

Moving 635,000 athletes, media, staff, volunteers and spectators between the city’s two Olympic “Clusters” (A Waterfront Cluster downtown and a University Cluster encompassing M.I.T., Harvard and B.U.) is Thomas’ and VHB’s domain. He insisted that Boston proves its ability to host multiple, massive events annually with the Boston Marathon and a morning Red Sox game every Patriots Day. While the MBTA is currently is crisis mode, everyone on the panel agreed that the T must be a catalyst for moving this bid forward and that public transportation is the key to economic opportunity and growth. While not as “sexy” as new train cars, Davey pointed out that signal and power systems, along with capacity improvements, would benefit Greater Boston long after the games are gone. The numbers being cited by Boston 2024 are $5 billion in transportation investment already underway and an additional $5 billion planned. However, some of those numbers were called into question in a Boston Globe article that came out the same morning as the panel.

In 2017, Boston will find out if its quest to host the games was successful. If it is, it could mean beach volleyball on the Boston Common and Olympic baseball at Fenway Park, not to mention more than 600,000 visitors to our city over a 30 day stretch. But for those looking to make the games a reality, clearly 2024 would be just the beginning.

New Construction for Greater Boston?

At the recent NAIOP/SIOR Annual Market Forecast, there was talk about the possibilities of speculative commercial development in Boston.  There was a consensus that we will continue to see new construction in the suburbs, Cambridge and Boston due to falling CONSTRUCTION_BLOGvacancies, raising rents, building obsolescence, and limited blocks of space available for large users.

The key stumbling block is whether tenants will pay a premium price over the rents available with existing vacant spaces (especially in areas where rents have not grown as quickly, like Boston’s Financial district.) The new buildings will have the greatest challenges in holding down rents due to the rapid rise in construction costs (with Boston having one the highest union labor wages.)

It is said that “time is money”, so a possible solution is to accelerate the speed of construction. Take a look at the following YouTube video of a 30-story tall hotel built in 360 hours (complete with room furnishings!)

Support One Fund, Support Boston

OneFund
All of us at NAIOP Massachusetts are saddened by the tragic events that occurred at the Boston Marathon on April 15. Times like these make us realize that Boston is basically a small town – it seems like we are all either connected directly, or by one degree of separation, from someone hurt in Monday’s explosions.

Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino announced the creation of One Fund Boston, which was established to provide assistance to those who were directly impacted by the tragedy. The local business community, including several NAIOP members, immediately stepped up to support the fund. We encourage the commercial real estate industry to show its support. To learn more, or to make a contribution, visit http://onefundboston.org.

In addition, we’ve learned that Roseann Sdoia of National Development, a NAIOP Gavel Firm, was severely injured in the explosions. Her friend set up Roseann’s Recovery Fund, where you can donate towards her treatment and recovery expenses. Our thoughts are with Roseann and the many other victims hurt by this tragedy.

NAIOP Raises $151,500 for Heading Home

This post was submitted by Marc Margulies, principal at Margulies Perruzzi Architects and president of Heading Home’s Board of Directors

On June 6th, NAIOP Massachusetts held its 24th Annual Charitable Golf Tournament to benefit Heading Home, raising $151,500 to support programs to end homelessness in Greater Boston. This record-breaking sum is the largest in the tournament’s history, bringing the total donated to Heading Home to more than $1.85 million. The commercial real estate community should be proud
that its steadfast commitment to Heading Home reaps real rewards for homeless families.

In 2011, Heading Home helped more than 2,000 homeless people in Greater Boston by providing them a place to call home and opportunities for self-sufficiency. Two-hundred and fifty units of housing have been created since 2006, with 61 new units created in the past year alone.  More than 400 volunteers annually commit their time and energy to Heading Home, and the commercial real estate community provides a large number of those volunteers. The monies raised by NAIOP will continue to support Heading Home’s programs to end homelessness locally.

Andrew Hoar, president of CB Richard Ellis/New England and chair of the 2012 NAIOP Massachusetts Charitable Events Committee, led the effort to make this record-breaking donation possible. Andy has been on the Heading Home Board of Directors since 2007, and he, his wife, and his firm are longtime contributors to the organization. Andy’s efforts this year hit the fundraising goals out of the park!

Another ardent Heading Home supporter who deserves special recognition is NAIOP Massachusetts CEO, David Begelfer. David has been actively involved in the struggle to end homelessness for more than 24 years, and started the annual NAIOP golf tournament to support Heading Home. In 2010, David received the Bob Ray Partnership Award from the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance for his commitment to ending homelessness. His support of Heading Home, including serving on the organization’s Advisory Council, has been unwavering through the years.

Since the first NAIOP Golf Tournament that raised $5,000 for Heading Home, the commercial real estate industry has continued to come together to show support for homeless families and individuals. Thank you to NAIOP’s member volunteers, staff, and generous donors who helped to raise this record-breaking donation for Heading Home. It is only through their support that the tournament is able to raise funds needed to help Heading Home accomplish its goal of ending family homelessness.

View pictures from the event.