City is not fulfilling its commitments to building permit customers

Blog Post
City room for storing paper plans for building permit applications

Persistent problems in the City’s building permit process have moved from frustrating to potentially consequential for Portland’s post-pandemic economic recovery. The problems won’t get resolved without better coordination among bureaus, improved management practices, and sustained attention from City Council, according to a recently released audit report.     

The audit team found that Portland’s system for reviewing building permit applications is too slow, doesn’t follow its own customer complaint policy, doesn’t have performance goals it should, or the systems needed to achieve them.

“The City’s review process makes it harder to build housing and conduct business here,” City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero said. “Many of City Council’s goals will be harder to solve unless it acts as a legislative body to evaluate the regulatory environment and as commissioners-in-charge to hold their bureaus accountable for necessary changes.”

Portland’s commission-form government also makes managing the building permits system difficult. Seven bureaus led by different commissioners are responsible for permit plan reviews, but no one entity manages the system. Bureaus are working on improvement projects, but progress has been slow, and other City initiatives to simplify Portland’s regulatory environment have stalled.

The audit recommends the Bureau of Development Services coordinate with other permitting bureaus to establish effective systems for management and customer complaints. It also recommends Development Services’ Commissioner Dan Ryan work with Council to complete slow and stalled projects to improve customer service and hold bureaus accountable for results.

-- Tenzin Gonta, Performance Auditor III