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Expedited Permitting and Review: The Basics

Building permitting and review processes play an important role in ensuring that newly built or renovated homes and apartments meet health, safety, environmental and other standards. But a lengthy or complex approval process can lead to delays and increased expenses that make it difficult to deliver affordable homes. Policies that expedite the permitting and review process reduce the time, cost and risk of development. These policies can streamline the overall development approval process for all homes and apartments. They can also set up special channels through which developers of affordable homes receive priority consideration for permit requests and other administrative processes.

Reducing Delays and Uncertainty in Development Process

Efforts to expedite permitting and review processes generally focus on remedying administrative inefficiencies that cause delay in the development process. These delays are often the products of a series of well-intentioned building, and environmental codes that, in the aggregate, create a system in which it may take years to obtain the necessary approvals for development.

When developers are required to submit multiple permit applications and secure approvals from an array of agencies – each with its own timetable and set of organizational procedures – before building can begin, the resulting delays can increase the costs of new homes and apartments. Outdated requirements in the local zoning code and other policies that make the development process cumbersome cause further delays and introduce uncertainty into the development process. Expedited permitting and review policies address these obstacles by restructuring regulatory processes to emphasize efficiency, predictability and cost savings for both the public and private sectors while still protecting the health, safety and welfare of the general public.

Benefits of Expedited Permitting Process

Nearly all communities require builders to get building permits and secure numerous other approvals when beginning new construction or undertaking substantial rehab. All communities could benefit from a development approval process that is efficient and predictable. Such a process creates cost savings for the community by reducing redundant review and staff time. The overall community benefits by having increased affordable housing production that can reduce pressure on housing prices and help keep existing housing affordable. Areas where demand for new housing is greatest and the combined burden of existing regulations the heaviest are likely to see the most benefit.

In some areas, projects that meet a specified affordability threshold, are transit oriented or infill development receive priority consideration in permit review, rezoning applications and other local government land-use decisions. Qualified homes and apartments also may be eligible for full or partial waivers of building permits, development review fees and other fees. According to a report from Reconnecting America, for example, proposed developments that conform to provisions laid out in the Transit District Development Plan for the area around Maryland’s West Hyattsville Metrorail station qualify for an expedited review process. Other communities work to remove duplicative requirements so that an environmental review completed for one agency will satisfy requirements for all relevant departments.

In volatile economic times, developers often must revise approved development plans to reflect market realities, such as changing a condominium development to an apartment development. Such revisions often require rapid approval due to increasingly stringent financing requirements. An expedited review process can make the difference between these projects surviving or falling apart.

Communities with high rates of foreclosures can benefit from a process that allows
foreclosed homes, many of which require significant repair, to be quickly returned to residential use, thereby assisting with stabilization of the neighborhood. In some of these communities, redevelopment, rather than rehabilitation, might be appropriate. An approval process that facilitates such redevelopment helps create new jobs and tax revenues while stabilizing the neighborhood and promoting economic recovery.  Some municipalities also use expedited permitting processes to reduce the time needed and lower the cost of modifying homes to make them more accessible for older adults.

Key Resources

The following is a list of key resources on topics related to expedited permitting and review processes.

Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse
This website, maintained by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research, provides an array of resources related to regulatory barriers. Users can access a searchable database to find studies and real world examples in a broad range of topics related to regulatory reform or view local case studies of communities implementing these strategies.

Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing
. 2005. Cityscape 8(1). Washington, DC: Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Streamlining the Development Approval Process. 1999. Submitted on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders by Debra Bassert for the American Planning Association’s Growing Smart Project, Phase III.

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