Auditor: Some progress made on Portland permit problems
The city of Portland has made substantial progress resolving long-standing building permit problems, but delays still exist and are not being promptly addressed, a new city report has found.
The City Auditor's Office released the audit Thursday, June 30. It follows up on a 2021 report that called for City Council-level leadership because no one bureau was authorized to solve permit system problems.
Commissioners Dan Ryan and Mingus Mapps took up that challenge as co-chairs of a Permit Improvement Task Force established in April 2021, the new report said. It hired a manager dedicated to support the work and engaged other council members during a January 2022 work session.
The task force — which includes representation from council offices, permitting bureaus and the development community — adopted three overarching goals: reduce permitting timelines, improve the customer experience and improve performance management.
"The City made substantive progress across the five audit recommendations," the new report said. "Less progress was made on the speed of building permit reviews and the City still does not follow its own customer complaint policy to resolve delays. As we noted last year, sustained, focused leadership remains necessary for these long-term reforms to result in a noticeable change for Portland's customers."
According to the report, progress includes setting a single benchmark to assess performance — time to finish the initial plan review — and setting a goal of reducing permit times by one-third that are now being tracked on an online public dashboard. It shows the city was unable to meet its timelines goals over the last year, however.
"The knowledge that in recent months the City has been taking roughly twice as long as stated goals may help customers set more realistic expectations about permit duration," the report said.
The task force is researching other important areas of performance that were highlighted in the previous report— customer service and quality — with the intention of adopting measurable goals in the future. The city has dedicated new staff resources to help sustain this work within citywide performance management, the new report said.
"The Task Force has been laying the groundwork to reduce customers' complaints by improving their experience with the process. Commissioners Ryan and Mapps convened in December 2021 the first Town Hall for the staff across the City's permitting bureaus. Alongside permitting directors, they announced the adoption of a consistent Citywide review and customer communication policy. The City also developed a foundational customer experience training course for permitting staff. While the new policy does not address complaints, these activities established baseline expectations for a customer service culture at the City," the new report said.
The report said the task force is preparing to make more changes in the future.
"The Task Force will address the other two reform areas — greater inter-bureau coordination and earlier Council direction — in the future. The City decided these two areas will require more time to develop and implement across bureaus and may be impacted by the permitting structure design changes," the report said.
Ryan and Mapps issued the following statement after the report was released:
As co-chairs of the City's first-ever Permit Improvement Task Force, we appreciate the Auditor's continued assessment of permit reforms and the progress highlighted by their 1-Year report "Audit Update: City advanced building permit reforms; Council and multi-bureau engagement noteworthy."When City Council received the 2021 report, we recognized the urgency of this issue and sprang into action. With the full support of City Council, we engaged the City's permitting bureaus and the development community to create the Permit Improvement Task Force—the Permit Improvement Task Force is a significant and transformative milestone in the City's efforts to streamline processes, track and improve performance metrics, and improve inter-bureau coordination. This audit update demonstrates how much progress the Permit Improvement Task Force has made in a short amount of time, and how much work lies ahead. We will continue focusing our efforts to speed up permitting processes, center the customer experience, and hold ourselves accountable in this vital work. We look forward to sharing our future progress with the community, and we encourage everyone to learn more on the Permit Improvement Website and review the Permit Timeline Dashboard. Thank you to the Auditor's Office, the Permit Improvement Task Force, Development Review Staff, and the Development Review Advisory Committee. We are proud to lead this long-overdue initiative together, and we are confident that the Permit Improvement Task Force's work will deliver the permitting system that all Portlanders deserve.
The full report can be found here.
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