Boston policy asks for diversity plans on private projects

Dive Brief:

  • In what officials hailed as a first-of-its-kind diversity, equity and inclusion policy, the city of Boston is asking developers to submit minority and women workforce participation goals on private projects.
  • The measure, approved Aug. 11 by the Boston Planning & Development Agency, requests applicants filing residential and nonresidential development projects over 20,000 square feet to submit plans that include economic participation, employment and management roles for people of color, women and certified minority- and women-owned business enterprises within the scope of their projects.
  • “This new policy is about ensuring success is spread across our communities, while incentivizing sustainable growth and creating more transparent processes,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu in a statement.  

Dive Insight:

MWBE goals are often included on public projects at the federal, state and city level, and Boston highlighted the diversity plan requirements it already has for jobs built on its public land. But the new measure asks for those goals to be stated for projects located on private parcels, too.

While the city says that’s a first for a public entity, increasingly, owners and contractors on private projects have sought to highlight their inclusion initiatives voluntarily.  

But those efforts, whether done in the public or private realms, are mostly just aspirational. Even though prime contractors can be held to pay liquidated damages when goals aren’t met as specified in contracts, minority contractors complain there’s no teeth in enforcing goals once contracts are awarded.

Indeed, a recent state auditor’s report found that 95% of state construction contracts in Massachusetts fell short of inclusion goals for women.

The Boston initiative calls for plans for inclusion to be spelled out at all levels of private projects, according to a fact sheet on the program:

  • Pre-development, including the development entity, ownership, equity and debt investment, design, engineering, legal and other consultants.
  • Construction, including general contractor, sub-contractor, trades, workers performing construction, suppliers, engineering, and professional and other services such as landscaping, catering, fuel supply and rental equipment.
  • Ongoing operations including building tenants, facilities management and contracted services.

Requested details include information on MWBE contractors’ roles and the total contract value they’re receiving in the development.

“The DEI Plan Disclosure may be provided in narrative format but should explain why the specific commitments are realistic, executable and impactful,” the development agency said on its website.

Still, the Boston program is just a request for developers to submit this information with their projects, and not a requirement. But it could eventually be incorporated into the city’s zoning policies, as well.

“Development can be a catalyst to not only bring positive investment to our neighborhoods, create good jobs and affordable housing at a range of levels, but also bring opportunities to build wealth for those who have historically been left out of Boston’s building boom,” said Arthur Jemison, Boston’s chief of planning, in the city’s release.

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