For months HBA Government Affairs staff have been working closely with Washington County’s Land Use and Transportation Department (LUT) to address long-standing permit delays that have plagued construction projects in the county. For nearly a year, the county’s central permitting departments have been understaffed and operating under inefficient processes that resulted in delays at both the Intake and File Check phases of permit applications of all types. On either side, the delays reached a peak of nearly 8 weeks, adding roughly 4-months of delays on projects ranging from simple deck repairs to new home construction. As a result of HBA’s direct engagement, the problem now appears to be getting better with delay times at those stages of permitting dropping by nearly two-thirds. In early August, HBA Government Affairs delivered 10 concrete policy proposals to help Washington County improve their permitting process and foster better communication with builders. Having met with county commissioners several times, talking with the county administrator, and regularly meeting with LUT leadership, we were able to work collaboratively to move the needle on the issue in just months. Below is a breakdown of current permitting delays and timeframes provided by the county: · File Check: 1-week (down from 7-weeks) · Permit Set-Up: 4-weeks (down from 7-weeks) · Average time to process residential permit (without revisions): 6-weeks. This does not include permit set up, and begins once plans are uploaded in ProjectDox. Here are some of the process improvements the county has implemented to address the delays: · Closed public counter on Wednesdays and Fridays. This helps provide staff with uninterrupted time to process backlog of file check/finalized documents for permitting. · Onboarding and rehire of staff. The county has hired two new permit technicians and one permit supervisor and have recently retired a staff member who’s returned for a limited duration to help process backlog permits. · Processing prioritization. Staff have been prioritizing residential permit applications with greater overall efficiency. This has reduced the number of items in the inbox queue by about 30% since September. · Concurrent Review. More recently, the county has instituted concurrent review processes for residential permits. The form is now posted on the website for industry use. · Triaging Staff Time. Permit technicians now have daily task assignments with a single-focus, which helps staff focus solely on one process at a time, i.e., file checks, answering phones, counter or application set up. · Removing Solar Panel Permit Regulations. Additionally, a recent process improvement eliminated a step required to set up solar panel permits. A formal review process for the many solar applications in the queue was removed, saving countless hours of staff time. Staff realized that this added review could simply be addressed during the inspection stage. Since a large number of incoming permit applications were for solar panels, this change paid immediate dividends. Stephen Roberts, the Director of Land Use & Transportation at the county said that his team hopes to see even greater improvements going forward, “We’re excited about the team’s continued progress and optimistic that we can return to normal timelines for the incoming application step within the next few weeks.” HBA would like to thank the many members who have taken the time to talk with county staff and work with the government affairs team to formulate nearly a dozen policy recommendations. In particular, Kelly Ritz of Stone Bridge Homes NW, was an invaluable resource these past few months and helped elevate many process-oriented resolutions that the county has since adopted. And while the current permitting system is not perfect, these improvements do reflect the progress that we as an industry can build on. With a regional housing supply shortage of roughly 60,000 units, permitting inefficiencies are the last thing that should prevent local jurisdictions from meeting their housing production goals. We will continue to work with county staff and policy makers to ensure that other permitting processes can be streamlined, improved, or removed to increase building output. It is always our objective to cut down on permitting wait times while increasing customer service, maintaining municipal budgets, and fostering safe and reliable building standards. Next Steps: We will host our regular quarterly check-in with the LUT permit leadership on Monday, November 14th at 2pm. We will be sending out regular communication to those who’ve attended at least one meeting in the past. If you’d like to join for this or future conversations, please reach out to Preston Korst at firstname.lastname@example.org.