October 2020
State Issues Guidance to Municipalities on Public Hearings for Housing
In response to concerns raised by HBRAMA that some municipalities were continuing to refuse to hold public hearings on applications for permits and approvals related to housing production during the COVID-19 state of emergency, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) recently issued a guidance document to all cities and towns urging them to conduct such hearings remotely.
On March 10, 2020, Governor Baker declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak of the 2019 Coronavirus. Under a series of executive orders, all businesses except those designated as essential businesses, such as residential construction, were required to close and all gatherings were limited in size to no more than 10 people. In response to gradual improvements in the public health data, the governor issued a series of subsequent orders allowing for a phased re-opening of workplaces and other facilities.

HBRAMA worked with NAIOP Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, in drafting and supporting the passage of Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020. To reduce public gatherings at the start of the pandemic, that Act suspended any requirement that a municipal board had to conduct a public hearing on a permit application within a specific period of time. It also provided that a permit granting authority may conduct meetings and public hearings remotely, consistent with the governor’s order of March 12, 2020 which suspended certain provisions of the Open Meeting Law.

Notwithstanding the obligation of local boards and commissions to hold public hearings on applications submitted to them, and the flexibility provided to them by both the executive order and Chapter 53, many builders and developers were reporting that hearings on their applications were being delayed until after the state of emergency is lifted. And in a few instances, zoning boards of appeals were refusing to hear petitions for comprehensive permits under Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable housing law, while continuing to hear applications for special permits for conventional housing.

The memorandum from DHCD pointedly warns municipalities that public hearings must be held for all applications related to housing in a fair manner, consistent with state and federal fair housing laws and the state's public health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the state emergency was declared, most municipalities have initiated public hearings using remote online services (e.g., Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Go-To-Meeting) or held in-person meetings with social distancing for land use boards, town meetings, and city council hearings. Given that housing production is a social justice, public health and economic imperative, the failure of local boards and commissions to conduct public hearings on permits and approvals for housing production is unconscionable.

A copy of the guidance document from DHCD can be found here.
Costly COVID-19 Bills for Hazard Pay and Insurance Sent to Study
Thanks to the opposition of HBRAMA and business groups across the state, the Legislature ordered two bills to “study” that would have imposed costly mandates on all employers who provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” such as homebuilders and remodelers.

House Bill No. 4745, An Act providing hazard pay for essential workers in the COVID-19 Emergency, sought to require employers whose services are “COIVD-19 Essential Services” to pay their employees “hazard pay” to be calculated as one and a half times the employee’s actual earnings for any day they were required to work. This mandate would have been retroactive to March 23, 2020.

House Bill No. 4740, An Act relative to emergency health benefits for essential employees, would have required any “essential employer” that requires an “essential employee” to report to work, to perform out-of-home duties to provide emergency health hazard benefits to each essential employee, regardless of how long the employee has been employed.

House Bill No. 4740 would also have provided that any employee who contracts, has symptoms of, or otherwise becomes infected with COVID-19, have their medical condition or incapacity to work presumed to be work-related. This presumption would have had a huge detrimental impact on workers compensation rates in the future and added significant costs to most businesses.

By sending the bills to a “study,” the Legislature effectively killed them for the remainder of the legislative session.
Baker Administration Announces Eviction Diversion Initiative
As the state eviction moratorium was set to expire on October 17, Governor Baker announced the Eviction Diversion Initiative, committing $171 million of state funding for efforts to prevent evictions as tenants and property owners face financial hardships due to COVID-19. The federal eviction moratorium, that has fewer protections and allows eviction processes to move forward, took effect as the state moratorium expired and will be in place through December 31. The initiative provides much needed resources to help thousands of households pay the rent and mortgage to keep residents and property owners stable for the next few months.

The Eviction Diversion Initiative commits funding for key housing stability programs, including:
  • $100 million commitment this fiscal year to expand the capacity of the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program to provide relief to renters and landlords impacted by COVID-19.
  • RAFT benefit to be raised from $4,000 to $10,000 per household
  • Streamlined application process for both the RAFT and Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) programs for low to moderate income households;
  • Property owners with fewer than 20 units allowed to apply directly for RAFT and ERMA, with consent from tenants.
  • $48.7 million to HomeBASE and other rapid rehousing programs for when tenants are evicted and are at risk of homelessness;
  • $12.3 million to provide tenants and landlords with access to legal representation and related services prior to and during the eviction process, as well as community mediation to help tenants and landlords resolve cases outside of court;
  • $6.5 million for Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs), the “front door” for those facing a housing emergency; and
  • $3.8 million for the Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP), to provide case management support and to act as a neutral party to help tenants and landlords come to agreement.

More information about the Eviction Diversion Initiative and resource materials for both tenants and landlords can be found here.

HBRAMA Actively Engaged in Title 5/Groundwater Stakeholder Group
HBRAMA Executive Committee member Jeffrey Brem and Guy Webb, Executive Director of the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Western Massachusetts, participated in the online Stakeholder Group Meeting convened by MassDEP on Oct. 8 regarding its consideration of sweeping changes to its Title 5 and Groundwater Discharge Permit Program. Aspects of the revisions discussed at the meeting included expansions to the definition of “Nitrogen Sensitive Areas,” enhanced nitrogen removal requirements and load restrictions in such Areas; reconsideration of Title 5 design flows for multi-family residences; potential reductions in groundwater separation for the construction of new Title 5 systems achieving pathogen removal through the use of innovative or alternative technologies. Recognizing the significance to our members of these and other Title 5 issues, HBRAMA will continue to voice the concerns of homebuilders to MassDEP and will be providing a further detailed report in the coming weeks.


Ipswich Zero Net Energy Bylaw Fails to Pass at Town Meeting
An amendment to the Town of Ipswich Zoning Bylaw that would have required that if a residential development obtains a special permit, waiver or other local approval that increases the density or intensity of use beyond what is allowed by right, the dwellings in the development must be net zero ready buildings, failed to gather the required 2/3rds vote needed for adoption at an October 17 Town Meeting.

The proposed bylaw defined a net zero ready building as “a building that
  1. Has no on-site combustion for any purpose, including HVAC system operation, water heating, and cooking equipment (all electric systems);
  2. Has a solar-ready roof with appropriate orientation to capture solar radiation; and
  3. Is wired for EV charging.”

Frustrated in its attempt to force the developer of a single-family subdivision approved under the town’s cluster bylaw to agree to forgo the use of propane fuel in favor of heat pumps, the Planning Board sponsored the so-called “energy efficiency” bylaw. The stated purposes of the bylaw were to “aggressively reduce the use of fossil fuels and actively adopt renewable energy sources.”

Climate change activists have been lobbying the State Board of Building Regulations and Standards to amend the State Building Code to mandate electric vehicle charging in all newly constructed homes, in addition to advocating for the adoption of a “Stretch Net Zero” energy code. Having been unsuccessful up to this point in those efforts, these activists have been pursuing other strategies to accomplish their goals. The Brookline bylaw banning all future natural gas connections for new construction, which Attorney General Healey invalidated, and the failed Ipswich “energy efficiency” bylaw are examples of those alternate approaches.

Members of HBRAMA should let the association know if similar bylaws or ordinances are proposed in their communities.
HBRAMA Continues to Lobby for Housing Choices and Permit Extension
When the Legislature voted on July 31 to extend its formal session to the end of the year, it did so, in part, because differences between the House and Senate remained on several major bills passed by both branches. Included among those is the economic development package, An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, initially sponsored by Gov. Baker.

This legislation is a priority of HBRAMA because of its inclusion of the Housing Choices Bill that reduces the vote to adopt local zoning changes that facilitate housing production from 2/3rds to a mere majority, as well as a one-year extension of nearly all approvals for real estate development that were in existence when the governor declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020 due to the coronavirus.

HBRAMA joined with a coalition of other organizations, including the Massachusetts Municipal Association, in submitting a letter to the House and Senate leadership urging them to accept the language included in H. 4887, which is the unamended version of the Housing Choices Bill, and the permit extension language contained in S. 2842. The letter also urged the lawmakers to reject any provisions that would impose state-set zoning standards, override local decision-making, or create new avenues for costly and unnecessary litigation in any final compromise bill.

The Legislature is expected to begin meeting again shortly after Election Day, November 3, and HBRAMA and its coalition partners will renew its lobbying efforts to secure passage of this critical housing legislation before the end of the current legislative session.

A copy of the coalition letter can be found here.
MassDevelopment director to resign at year’s end
The state's quasi-public development agency MassDevelopment will soon be in need of new leadership with CEO Lauren Liss preparing to step down at the end of the year after three years at the helm. The Baker Administration recently announced Liss's departure and said that Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy, who chairs the MassDevelopment board, will be leading the search for the next head of the agency.

"From providing critical financing to growing businesses to supporting the construction of new housing units, Lauren and the MassDevelopment team have played an essential role in our administration’s work on countless projects and initiatives,” said Kennealy. Baker appointed Liss to lead the financing and development agency in 2017 after a career in both the public and private sectors, including a stint as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

MassDevelopment said that in fiscal 2020 the agency financed or managed 341 projects, helping to generate nearly $2.7 billion in investment in the economy and build or preserve 1,787 housing units.
Governor Baker highlighted the recent 2020 Affordable Rental Housing Awards for the development of affordable housing at the virtual Western Massachusetts Developers Conference.
The 2020 Affordable Rental Housing Awards will result in the production or preservation of more than 2,400 housing units, including 2,166 affordable rental units in communities across the Commonwealth. Through this round of awards, the Baker-Polito administration provided more than $105.7 million in direct funding and allocated $53 million in state and federal tax credits to 28 projects in 19 communities.
 
“Our administration has made housing a priority, including injecting $1.1 billion into the affordable housing ecosystem, filing zoning reform legislation, and signing the largest Housing Bond Bill in our state’s history,” said Baker. “Keeping families stable and increasing the supply of affordable housing in Massachusetts is vital for our future and I am pleased to celebrate this most recent round of housing development awards and the new homes they will provide for residents.”
 
“These awards will create or preserve more than two thousand units across the Commonwealth, creating opportunities for residents to access stable housing and community,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “It is vital we continue to make long-term investments in Massachusetts’ housing portfolio as we face the current crisis, and we are pleased to see these projects move forward with $100 million in state funding.”
The $53 million allocation of state and federal tax credits will create approximately $370 million in equity for project sponsors. This award round includes eight projects that will build new affordable housing for seniors, five adaptive reuse projects that will turn historic buildings into new housing, and six projects that will preserve existing affordable housing and ensure communities maintain affordability. New affordable housing will be created in every region of the state, and more than 20% of the total units will be affordable to extremely low-income households.

“It is clear that safe and stable housing is critical for economic advancement, public health and preventing virus spread, and we remain committed to making investments and keeping construction projects on track,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “We are pleased that construction has remained an essential business as we work to expand housing at all income levels in every part of Massachusetts.”

Since 2015, the administration has invested more than $1.1 billion in affordable housing, resulting in the production and preservation of more than 20,000 housing units, including 18,000 affordable units. The administration has also advanced the development of more than 14,000 mixed-income housing units through the successful MassWorks Infrastructure Program, reformed the Housing Development Incentive Program and worked with communities to implement smart-growth development and planning efforts.
Gary Campbell elected NAHB National Area 1 Chairman
At the meeting of NAHB’s Area 1 states held during the NAHB Fall Leadership meeting on October 22 HBRAMA past president, Gary Campbell, was elected as the NAHB Area 1 Chairman. Area 1 encompasses all of the New England states, Gary will be certified as a NAHB National Area Chairmen during the annual meeting held in conjunction with the International Builders Show. Area Chairmen are elected to represent the interests and concerns of members from their area and the interests of Associate members. They work closely with the Senior Officers of the Board, forming a vital communications link between NAHB and the leaders and members in each area as well as Associate members
COVID-19 On the Rise
The rate of COVID-19 infection continues to rise across the state. How will you keep your workers healthy and your worksite open?

If your community is designated a high-risk community (8 or more cases per 100,000) it will be required to revert to a more restrictive steps of the economic recovery plan implemented by Gov. Baker. The construction industry has been considered essential since the implementation of the COVID-19 restrictions. To maintain that designation it is vital that our workers continue to follow the necessary protocols and safety measures showing the community at large that their safety, and the safety of our workers, is taken seriously. The town of Plymouth recently reported a cluster of infections at a construction site when eight people were carpooling together but no one was wearing a mask. All eight got sick.

Train yourself and your site safety officer on the proper by taking the HBRAMA COVID-19 Exposure Prevention, Preparedness & Response Plan. There is a fee of $29 for members using the discount code: HBRAMEMBER. The non-members cost is $59.
Looking for continuing education hours for your CSL license? The new HBRAMA CSL education website features the latest in online and in-person educational offerings.

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