Originating as a special project out of Commissioner Ryan’s Office, the Permit Improvement Project is now housed in the Office of Management and Finance. This provides a solid grounding for embedding the projects into City infrastructure for long-term sustainability as well as position the team to look for city-wide efficiencies, collaboration and accountability for development services and performance.
Providing development permits is a foundational and essential City service. The City needs to better serve Portland residents and the development community by responding to the critical need to support economic recovery, listen and respond to customer complaints, and address the challenges with staff recruitment and retention. An efficient, understandable and effective building permitting process will in turn support the city-wide priority of a healthy, safe and thriving built environment.
In early 2021, Commissioners Dan Ryan and Mingus Mapps appointed a cross-bureau Permitting Improvement Task Force (PITF) to identify solutions to delays and other concerns with the City's building permit processes, which were called out in a 2021 City Audit Report. With Council bureau reassignments in January 2023, Commissioner Carmen Rubio has joined as a task force co-chair.
The Task Force – which includes representation from all Council offices, permitting and planning bureaus, and the development community – adopted three overarching goals:
- Reduce permitting timelines
- Improve the customer experience
- Improve performance management
These focus areas were developed with the goal to identify gaps, improve processes, establish and implement performance metrics, and create systems improvements.
A year later, the 2022 Audit Update - City Advanced Building Permit Reforms - found that the city made substantive progress across the five audit recommendations (see Audit Imperatives, below). 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. Sustained, focused leadership remains necessary for these long-term reforms to result in a noticeable change for Portland’s customers.
The audit specified the following imperatives:
- Implement a city-wide performance management system Implement a complaint policy for resolving and reporting customer complaints
- Dedicate resources and hold permitting bureaus collectively accountable to full and timely implementation of city improvement initiatives
- The City Council to follow policies and implement the recommendations from the 2018 study (Strategies for Accelerating Housing Development in Portland) or adopt alternatives
- The City Council holds the Bureau Directors accountable for the implementation of this set of audit recommendations
Task Force Recommendations
In May 2022 the task force made specific recommendations to the City Council to make changes in the permitting structure, process and increase the use
- Reorganize the development services teams in the four infrastructure bureaus to create cross-bureau teams with one manager.
- Create and implement a regulatory process that works wholistically across bureaus and with policy makers including creation, implementation, compliance and evaluation.
- Explore the feasibility of a single point of contact model for customers
- Provide one-time funding to increase capacity for planning and implementing task force recommendations – the Permit Improvement Transition Team
The task force continues to meet monthly to review data, inform policy and build a culture of shared accountability for city-wide development services.
Permit Improvement Transition Team
In September 2022 the Permit Improvement Transition Team (PITT) received special appropriation funding from the City Council through July 2024 and was charged with leading, coordinating and building capacity for the city-wide permit improvement effort. PITT will support discrete projects, cross-pollinate process improvement efforts and work as change management agents. The team will work across bureaus to lead, advise and maintain a city-wide awareness about city-wide permit improvement work to achieve efficiency and interconnectivity. PITT is guided by and accountable to the Permit Improvement Task Force (PITF) and its recommendations, and the 2021 City auditor recommendations.