A letter from Rebecca Esau, Director of the Bureau of Development Services, regarding customer feedback on the City’s building permit services

News Article
1900 SW 4th Ave building entrance.
Recently a survey was sent to 1088 customers who applied for building permits from January through June 2021, asking about their experiences and seeking ideas for improvement; 282 customers responded. Here is BDS Director Esau’s letter to survey recipients.

On behalf of the Bureau of Development Services and all of the City bureaus involved with construction permitting, I want to thank you for your business and share some of the highlights from responses to our recent survey on experiences with the City’s permitting processes.

I appreciate the frank comments and feedback that were shared. I want you to know that the directors of the other permitting bureaus and I take these concerns to heart. This survey provided us with helpful insights and benchmarks from which we are measuring our efforts at continuous improvement.

We heard a lot of frustration about the time it takes to receive a return phone call or email message from City staff, or in some cases not hearing back at all. We are working across bureaus to develop a uniform policy and consistent standards for responsiveness to customer inquiries. These will provide expectations for City employees to which they and their managers will be held accountable.

We heard that you want a quicker review and receipt of permits for smaller projects in particular. In August we began a soft roll-out of a separate track for permit applications, submitted online through Development Hub PDX, to quickly identify projects that are less complicated and require less time to review, in order to process those applications more quickly and not have them wait in a queue behind larger and more complicated projects. Reviewers assigned to these permits are given a goal of a two-business day timeframe in which to complete their review. We are currently processing 8 to 10 permits per day on this faster track and are working to automate certain features to process more of these smaller project permits more quickly.

Additionally, we are piloting a tool with our electronic plan review software to allow reviewers to make minor changes to plans after contacting the applicant and receiving their agreement. (Examples include adding a required tree to the site plan, or adding required erosion control fencing, etc.) This replicates the kinds of quick conversations and resolution of issues we used to have with “over-the-counter” permits reviewed in the Permit Center, and eliminates a round of checksheets, corrections submitted, and re-review. It is a very exciting development, and it will significantly improve the efficiency of our services in situations where minor corrections to plans are needed to gain approval.

We also heard concerns about the overall time it takes to receive a building permit, the challenges in finding needed information on the website, and the need for improved content in the information available online. We are working to address these needs and clarify information on our website and application forms to better help customers prepare and submit complete permit applications so we can begin the setup of permits more quickly.

In 2020 we initiated a hiring freeze due to the bureau’s financial situation, and the low staffing levels have affected service delivery. We decided to make several exceptions to the hiring freeze in areas where we are most challenged in delivering timely services to help shorten timelines for issuing permits.

We know that these are only first steps and that there is more work to do. All of the permitting bureau directors serve on a Permitting Improvement Task Force, led by Commissioners Dan Ryan and Mingus Mapps, to identify and implement actions that will result in a more efficient and more satisfying building permit process. We are fortunate to have the support of these Commissioners in addressing longstanding issues with the City’s permitting services, that are bigger than any one bureau can solve alone.

If you run into issues with a particular project, and need help, please don’t hesitate to contact our BDS Customer Success Team to assist you: BDSCustomerSuccess@portlandoregon.gov.

As the Bureau of Development Services director, you have my unwavering commitment to delivering real results in improving the City of Portland’s building permit services. Thank you again for your business, feedback and willingness to engage with us as we strive to serve you better.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further concerns, questions or suggestions. 

Thank you.

Rebecca Esau, Director
Bureau of Development Services



Ken Ray

Public Information Officer, Development Services