April 2022
Unprecedented study on housing and climate begins

After months of discussion, negotiation and fundraising by the HBRAMA, a first of its kind study of the potential impacts of the Department of Energy Resources proposed net zero building code on construction costs and housing affordability in Massachusetts is finally underway.

The joint study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Real Estate and the Wentworth Institute of Technology will develop cost comparisons for a variety of housing types in Massachusetts, including both single-family and multi-family in both strong and weak housing markets. It will also include an analysis on the impacts of those costs on housing affordability and the state’s housing shortage, as well as developing potential state and federal public policy initiatives to mitigate any negative effects of a net zero building code.

This important initiative was led by HBRAMA Government Affairs Committee Chair Rob Brennan of CapeBuilt Homes. The association is grateful for the staff and financial support it received from the National Association of Home Builders, as well as the generous contributions from the following companies and organizations:
  • Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute
  • Building Industry Association of Washington (State)
  • Cape Cod 5, Housing Assistance Corp. - Cape Cod
  • HBRAMA Public Policy Fund
  • Mitsubishi Electric Heating and Air Conditioning
  • Massachusetts Association of Realtors
  • National Association of Home Builders
  • Planning Office for Urban Affairs
  • Propane Education & Research Council
  • Pulte Homes
  • SunPower
  • Toll Brothers
  • as well as many contributions from members of HBRAMA
The lead researchers for MIT and WIT are, Justin Steil, Assoc. Professor of Law and Urban Planning at MIT and Payam Bakhshi, Ph.D., P.E., CM-Lean, Associate Professor of Construction Management at WIT. An initial report is expected later this Spring, with the final report to be presented at the International Builders Show in 2023 in Las Vegas.
Senate Climate Bill would enable municipal fossil fuel bans

The State Senate recently released yet another ambitious bill to address the effects of climate change. Included in the bill (S.2019) is a provision that instructs the Department of Energy Resources to establish a 10-municipality demonstration project allowing cities and towns to restrict or prohibit new building construction or major renovation projects from utilizing fossil fuels (coal, oil, propane and natural gas). Participating municipalities must receive local approval (city council or town meeting vote) to pursue these measures. Six communities—Brookline, Arlington, Lexington, Lincoln, Concord, and Acton—have already done so, and therefore do not have to obtain local approval again.

Senate Bill No. 2819 is a direct response to Attorney General Healey’s past rulings that any local bylaw or zoning bylaw that seeks to ban the installation of fossil fuel infrastructure in new building projects is prohibited by existing state law governing building permits and the regulation of gas utilities. The bill would create an exemption from those laws for 10 communities.

The HBRAMA is strongly opposed to this provision of S. 2819 as it will dramatically increase costs for both builders and homebuyers in the 10 participating communities. Further, it will set a precedent for other communities to adopt similar bans on the use of fossil fuels to heat homes that will stifle housing production and worsen the state’s housing crisis.

The HBRAMA is a member of a coalition that supports a responsible transition to a renewable energy future that ensures reliability and affordability. This coalition, which also opposes the adoption of municipal gas bans, includes two dozen of the Commonwealth’s largest business, employer, housing, labor, Chambers of Commerce, and trade associations.
HBRAMA submit comments on MBTA Zoning Mandate; communities push back

The HBRAMA, with the assistance of Attorney Mark Kablack of Westborough, submitted detailed comments to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) regarding the Draft Guidelines for Creation of Multi-Family Districts, as issued by the department, including comments to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) available through DHCD’s website.

The HBRAMA is enthusiastic about the adoption of the Housing Choice Act that was included in Chapter 358 of the Acts of 2020. The association believes that the provision of the Housing Choice Act requiring multi-family zoning as of right in MBTA communities will have the potential of encouraging much needed housing development, providing a small but important step towards addressing the state’s housing crisis. The more notable components of the law from the HBRAMA’s perspective are: i) the scope of the mandate (applicable to 175 municipalities); ii) the timeline for adoption of action plans and final compliance; iii) the requirement for as of right development with minimum land area and density provisions; iv) the monetary disincentives for lack of compliance; and iv) the prohibition of restrictions that affect housing for families.

The HBRAMA’s comments focus on the following topics:

  • DHCD Resources for Determining Interim and Final Compliance
  • Adverse Impacts of Non-Zoning Laws and Regulations
  • Lack of Standards for Site Plan Review
  • Infrastructure Requirements
  • Affordability Requirements
  • DHCD’s Rights of Recission

DHCD’s draft guidelines, as well as the new law itself, has recently drawn strong pushback by many of the MBTA communities to which the mandate to zone for multi-family housing applies. In some towns local officials have raised the prospect of ignoring the law and foregoing state funds and grants, arguing the cost to the community in traffic, town services, infrastructure, school enrollment and environment impacts exceed the benefits of more housing. Other municipal officials are urging the department to revise the draft guidelines to drastically reduce the number of units that could be potentially developed.

The HBRAMA has urged DHCD to reject any changes to the guidelines that will undermine the effectiveness of the law in fostering needed multi-family production.

A copy of the association’s comments can be found [here].
HBRAMA joins coalition lobbying for more money for water infrastructure

The HBRAMA recently announced it officially joined the #InvestInWaterMA coalition, adding the home buildings industry’s support for prioritizing critical investments in water, sewer, and stormwater infrastructure.

The #InvestInWaterMA campaign, organized and led by the Utility Contractors Association of New England (UCANE), now counts 11 major business, environmental, and water-infrastructure groups as members and supporters and continues to seek new supporters throughout the Commonwealth. “Adequate and resilient water infrastructure, including potable water systems and sewer and stormwater management, is a prerequisite for our members to build the housing required to meet the needs of the citizens of the Commonwealth,’’ said HBRAMA President Emerson Clauss III.

The HBRAMA joins a growing list of coalition members that now includes the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS, Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBIO), NAIOP Massachusetts, the 495/MetroWest Partnership, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Water Works Association, the Wastewater Advisory Committee of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the New England Water Works Association, and the Charles River Watershed Association.

With state and local officials poised to make crucial decisions this year about investing federal and state infrastructure and COVID relief funding, the #InvestInWaterMA campaign has highlighted a water infrastructure funding gap estimated by the Office of the State Auditor in 2017 as $18 billion over 20 years for drinking-water infrastructure alone. Also unfunded are billions of dollars more in critically needed upgrades, repairs, and expansions for sanitary sewers, stormwater facilities, and remediation of combined sewer overflows. To learn more about the #InvestInWaterMA campaign, please visit https://ucane.com/InvestInWaterMA.
BRAMA submits comments on DOER Straw Stretch Energy Code

The HBRAMA submitted its initial comments on the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) Proposal for Stretch Code Update and New Specialized Stretch Code released on February 8, 2022.

Chapter 8 of the Acts of 2021, An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy, mandates that the DOER develop a “Municipal Opt-in Specialized Stretch Energy Code” including a definition of “net zero.” The HBRAMA is concerned that the proposed code will adversely affect housing production and affordability. While the resulting operational costs and total cost of ownership for homes built under the proposed code project favorably, it is the potential for significant
up-front costs that, if not substantially mitigated, will provide a further barrier to homeownership.

The HBRAMA comments on the draft Stretch Code Update and New Specialized Stretch Code include:

  • MassSave Incentives for 1-4 unit residences have been increased. The cost to achieve the required metrics for either Tier 1 or Tier 2, however, are likely to exceed the financial incentive and therefor will not actually incentivize as many projects as hoped. This is particularly true of the Tier 1 incentive which comes with a required HERS score of 35 or lower and ACH/50 of 1 or lower.

  • The requirement of rooftop solar on residential low rise buildings utilizing fossil fuels will unnecessarily add costs that render such projects unfeasible as a majority of the homes built fall into this category and many of these projects are in areas with existing access to natural gas. In addition, many currently active residential developments and developments that are in the approval process that already have or have planned natural gas lines. If the solar requirement is imposed on such projects, which already have their lots defined and structures sited as approved by the municipality, builders may have to return to planning boards for changes to subdivision plans to accommodate the solar requirement due to orientation issues.

  • A recommendation that the DOER establish an advisory committee of interested and qualified stakeholders, including representatives of the HBRAMA, to facilitate a dialogue with the department prior to it finalizing these codes.

  • A recommendation that the DOER establish a 1-year concurrency period under which housing projects already underway or for which permits or approvals have been applied for but not yet granted, may be built under the base Energy Code or the Stretch Energy Code, if applicable.

A copy of the association’s comments can be found [here].
HBRAMA engages communications consultant

The HBRAMA has retained a strategic communications firm to help it develop a public affairs campaign to raise awareness about the effect of the Commonwealth’s “net zero” initiative on housing production, including educating the public about the significant cost involved in constructing housing that complies with the proposed standards, and the resultant economic impacts.

Based in Newton, the Ball Consulting Group has a long and successful track record of developing and implementing strategic communications campaigns. Led by its founder, David Ball, it has worked with statewide and national organizations in building and running these programs, and have won awards for this work. The firm works with varied organizations and has served many state and national trade associations and cause-related organizations.

The HBRAMA chose the Ball Consulting Group, in part, for its familiarity with real estate development and construction issues. It worked with the MIT Center for Real Estate between 2015 and 2016 and again between 2019 and 2020.

With much interest in housing affordability and climate change, the campaign will leverage many different media formats to bring the association’s message forward, including: interviews with business reporters; thought leadership pieces, such as op-eds; pitching Boston and national journalists who cover policy topics in-depth; as well as radio shows and podcasts.

The HBRAMA is not opposed to more sustainable building. It understands the impact of climate change. “Net zero” regulations, however, must by grounded in reality and implemented with a viable and achievable timeframe. Massachusetts has two existential crises: one is housing affordability and the other is the climate crisis. The association’s message is simple, we cannot seek to resolve one crisis at the expense of the other. The Commonwealth must develop policies that advance both housing and climate.
HBRAMA sponsored resolution on Climate and Housing adopted as policy by NAHB

During the International Builders Show HBRAMA members were successful is pushing for the adoption of a resolution titled NAHB Support for Housing and Climate. The resolution call for any move by state or federal entities toward net zero construction code changes must take into account the aggregate cost implications on housing affordability and housing production and implement cost mitigating proposals to offset the aggregate increased cost of construction. Click for the full resolution wording as adopted by the Leadership Council of NAHB.
HBRAMA Mourns the Passing of Long Time Members

Richard J. "Dick" Bleakley, Sr.
March 30, 1955 - March 8, 2022
Northeast Builders Association

Donald A. Baker
August 20, 1932 – March 11, 2022
Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston

Alan David Carroll
April 21, 1957 – March 15, 2022
Northeast Builders Association
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