Representatives of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts met with Governor Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board on Sunday, May 3rd, to discuss the current status and readiness level of its members to fully resume residential construction in the Commonwealth.
The Advisory Board is charged with advising the Baker-Polito Administration on strategies to reopen the economy in phases based on health and safety metrics. It will develop a report by May 18th that will include Department of Public Health approved workplace safety standards, industry frameworks and customer protocols and guidelines, including enforcement mechanisms and coordination with municipal leaders.
Baker announced the formation of the Reopening Advisory Board last month. The 17-member group is Co-Chaired by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. It is composed of three public health officials, including DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel, MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack, three municipal officials, and eleven leaders from the business community. The HBRAMA was invited to address the board by Secretary Kennealy.
Meeting with the Reopening Advisory Board via Zoom videoconferencing were Emerson Clauss III, president of Allegiance Construction & Development Company and President-Elect of the HBRAMA; Robert Brennan, president of CapeBuilt Development, LLC and Co-Chair of the HBRAMA Government Affairs Committee; Tom DiPlacido, president of DiPlacido Development Corporation; and Ben Fierro of Lynch & Fierro LLP and HBRAMA lobbyist.
During the course of the one-hour meeting, the HBRAMA representatives explained to the Advisory Board that the members of the association are primarily engaged in the business of building and developing single-family homes, duplexes and townhomes, as well as residential remodeling. It was noted that the members of the HBRAMA build and develop housing almost exclusively in suburban and rural settings. Consequently, they are better able to accommodate “social distancing” and implement other DPH workplace protocols to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus than those contractors building in downtown Boston and other urban locations.
While Gov. Baker’s COVID-19 Emergency Order of March 31 deemed “workers performing housing construction related activities” as “Essential Services” and allowed to continue during the current state of emergency, compliance with that order has been inconsistent among municipal officials. The HBRAMA informed the Advisory Board that some towns are narrowly interpreting the governor’s order to prohibit certain types of housing construction such as the teardown of an existing home and the building of a new one in its place. Others are refusing to issue building permits for accessory dwelling units or halting remodeling work already begun before the State of Emergency had been declared.
The HBRAMA believes these actions taken by local building departments have been motivated out of a belief that housing construction cannot be undertaken safely. That is why it is developing a “COVID-19 Exposure Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Plan for Residential Construction in Massachusetts” that it will submit to the Reopening Advisory Board. The association hopes that the inclusion of that plan among the recommendations contained in the Board’s report will substantially ameliorate the concerns of those communities and result in more consistent compliance with the letter and spirit of the governor’s order regarding “housing construction related activities.
HBRAMA representatives also told the Advisory Board that some housing projects were being delayed because of the failure of local land use board and commissions to conduct regular hearings, despite the governor’s emergency order relaxing many of the provisions of the Open Meeting Law and the widespread availability of videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom, GoToMeeting and the like.
HBRAMA President-Elect Emerson Clauss submitted a memorandum to the Reopening Advisory Board addressing many of the issues confronting homebuilders who are attempting to produce housing in Massachusetts in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. A copy of that memorandum can be found here.