Customer survey indicates improvements in many areas of City’s building permit system

News Article
This photo shows a new foundation for a house and another house under construction in the background.
The City of Portland released the results of a second survey, conducted online between July 26 and Aug. 9, to gauge the effectiveness of efforts to assist customers in preparing and submitting a building permit application.
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This survey is conducted annually to inform the City’s ongoing permitting improvement efforts. An initial customer survey was conducted in the summer of 2021 of customers who applied for residential and commercial construction permits between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2021. This more recent survey invited 1,565 customers who applied for similar permits between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, and 437 customers (28 percent) participated. 

Complete permit application submittals save everyone time, so the intent of much of the recent improvement work is to better assist customers and ensure they can find and use the information and services available as they prepare their permit application. The customer survey is a way to gauge the effectiveness of these improved resources and services.  

The customer survey was a way to gather data to be able to assess the customer experience in finding and using the resources intended to support them in preparing a building permit application, and to identify areas where improvement is still needed in assisting customers at this first stage in the permit application process. Most questions in the survey fall into three broad categories:

Participants were offered an opportunity to provide open-ended comments on what went well with their permitting experience and what could improve the permit application process. 

Results show improvement in some areas 

Customers often cite concerns with the ease of finding complete information on the City of Portland’s website. The City’s website was significantly upgraded in 2020, and much of the permitting-related content was reorganized and consolidated. 
In the most recent survey: 

  • More than half (52.78 percent) of customers reported that they found information on the City’s website they needed to prepare their application materials, an improvement from the 2021 survey (42.55 percent). 

  • More than four in five customers (81.07 percent) responded that they found the information on the City’s website helpful or somewhat helpful, a slight decrease from 2021 (82.44 percent). 

  • More customers indicated they read (92.93 percent) and used (93.38 percent) the minimum submittal requirements in preparing their permit applications (the 2021 figures were 90.75 and 81.49 percent, respectively). 

The survey also indicated that more customers read the minimum requirements for submitting a permit application (93 percent in 2022 vs. 91 percent in 2021) and significantly more used the minimum submittal requirement documents available on (93 percent in 2022 vs. 81 percent in 2021) when applying for a permit. 
In 2022, customers felt more satisfied (45.3 percent) than dissatisfied (40.6 percent) with their over-the phone interactions with city staff to address permitting concerns. Similar results were noted concerning email communications with city staff (43.4 percent satisfied, 40.4 percent dissatisfied). A large majority of customers were satisfied (61.6 percent) with their experiences with free 15-minute question appointments, compared with 22.7 percent dissatisfied. 
A few of the comments received from customers included: 
“…I imagine you folks get a lot of grief from frustrated applicants, so I want to reiterate: every person I've interacted with has been lovely. It's the machinery that's dysfunctional.” 
“The 15-minute meetings are by far the best option for getting answers, but a lot of times the only times available are too far out, so we end up having to try calling and leaving messages with departments in the hopes of getting a quicker reply, or emailing employees directly in the hopes of hearing back sooner…” 
“…I thought the website, videos and explanations for submittal were great but a bit overwhelming…” 

“Clearly, we have work to do to improve the City’s permitting processes and customers’ interactions with it, but in most areas of this survey, the trends are heading in the right direction,” said Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the Bureau of Development Services and co-leads a Permit Improvement Task Force with Commissioner Mingus Mapps. 

Focus is on continuous improvement

The Permit Improvement Task Force, whose members include representatives of the City bureaus involved in development review, has put into motion several improvements to the City’s permitting processes, including:

  • Greater clarity in minimum submittal requirements for permit applications 

  • Adoption and implementation of a Citywide policy for consistent review standards and communications with customers 

  • Adoption by the Portland City Council of a resolution that consolidates effective dates for zoning, fee and other policy changes that affect development, so there are less frequent changes for customers to track and greater stability and predictability 

  • Updating of Portland Water Bureau standards and submittal guidelines to facilitate faster and more complete permit reviews for public works, private property development, and utility infrastructure projects 

The Bureau of Development Services also made substantial updates to the City’s application process for solar permits, which is already saving time by ensuring most solar permit applications are submitted with the information needed to review them. On Wednesday it will also unveil a new set of indicators, updated weekly, that illustrate the amount of time taken for different phases of the permit process to provide customers with greater transparency and expectations when submitting a permit application. 

In addition to continued improvement in the areas identified in the survey, the Permit Improvement Task Force will be focused on these and other areas in the coming months:

  • Creating a cross-disciplinary team of permit review staff from all infrastructure bureaus (Bureau of Environmental Services, Urban Forestry division of Portland Parks and Recreation, Portland Bureau of Transportation, Portland Water Bureau) reporting to one manager 

  • Studying the creation of a “One Point of Contact” model for a broader range of permits, where dedicated staff help manage a permit’s review process, from application to inspections, similar to the Field Issuance Remodel program for residential remodel projects 

  • Expanding performance measures to include timeliness, customer experience and quality