City Council Holds Hearing to Discuss Rent Relief for Residents, Businesses

The Boston City Council Committee on Housing and Community Development held a hearing on April 17 to discuss rent relief for both residential and commercial tenants in properties owned by the City and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). As many residents and commercial tenants face financial hardships due to COVID-19, the Council is hosting a series of meetings to discuss how they can help.

The hearing was held virtually via Zoom, and representatives from the BPDA and the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) were on hand to testify and answer questions from the Council.

BPDA Director of Real Estate Devin Quirk said that the BPDA has launched a program that allows its tenants to defer payment to the BPDA, as “many commercial tenants have suffered revenue loss,” he said. The BPDA’s largest holdings are in the neighborhoods of Charlestown and South Boston.

He said that the “majority” of BPDA owned properties are ground-leased and owners often have subleases. Tenants range from small local businesses to multi national companies, he said, and the BPDA’s form will “offer immediate rent relief” to those who fill out the form and are qualified.

“Each application is being reviewed by a committee of staff,” he said, and the BPDA is prioritizing small, local women and minority owned businesses.

The need-based form asks tenants to “document the hardship” they are facing, as well as provide information about things like tax returns and revenue impact. Tenants are also asked to propose what they think they need in terms of help.

“Right now, the application is for rent due in April, May, and June,” Quirk said. “We’re trying to make sure that those who really need the help get it.” He said that there would be a possible new application beyond June should it be necessary.

At minimum, the deferred payments would be due in Fiscal Year 2021 “spread across the whole 12 months.” He said that all tenants have multi-year leases “so we would entertain a multi-year deferment as well,” he added.

Quirk said that so far, 24 tenants have asked for applications, but the BPDA has not received all 24 forms back yet. The BPDA has 142 leases in all. “There are maybe 10 of those 142 that are multi-family residential buildings,” he said.

He added that the BPDA is also looking to offer assistance filling out the form for those who need it.

Donald Wright, Deputy Director of Real Estate Management and Sales for the DND said that the DND “will not be evicting or moving any of our licensees from DND property during this stop order.”

He said that when a request comes in, “we will make an immediate decision to defer payments with the only requirement to continue to carry liability insurance.”

To date, DND “has not had one request related to the current pandemic, and please know that the DND is committed to doing what we can to help businesses as stewards of these properties,” he added.

DND Housing Policy Manager Tim Davis said that only 13 of DND’s properties have commercial entities. Out of the 13 properties, they are a mix of small contractors, real estate developers, and some nonprofits.

The City Council, after asking questions of the panelists related to things like subtenants and clarifying questions to help them better understand the situation said they look forward to working with the BPDA and the DND on getting people the resources they need during this difficult time.

“We do have a lot of follow-up,” said Councilor Edwards, “and I do trust that we will be able to work with the DND and the BPDA to get the answers to those questions.”

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