Economic Recovery

Two hands planning, pointing to a map

Commissioner Ryan believes the more quickly we can get small businesses, affordable housing units, residential improvements and modifications, new investments, and large-scale housing developments flowing, the more quickly we can rebuild our economy. That's why he co-chairs the Permit Improvement Task Force with Commissioner Mapps, which serves to align the up to eight permitting bureaus, decrease the time it takes to get a permit, and improve customer experience.

We are a city where creativity and innovation is welcomed for all. Let’s continue to build an inclusive economy where everyone has access to thrive and create generational wealth.

Improving solutions to resolve delays 

Commissioner Ryan formed the Permit Improvement Task Force with the stated goal of reducing timelines, improving customer experience, building digestible public data to improve performance management. Comprised of leadership from all eight of the City’s permitting bureaus, the Task Force provides a different approach from past attempts to reform our system and processes, with the addition of a dedicated transition team to drive implementation of recommendations.  

Highlights from the Task Force's work to-date in 2022 include:  

  • Significantly accelerated the front-end processing of applications. For example, initial intake of new commercial construction—the time it takes to determine completeness of documents in the application—fell from 17 days in March ’21 to under two days by Jan ’22. It remained at or below 3 days through Nov ’22. Intake time for new residential construction remains similarly low.  
    Pipes inspection
  • Increased growing percentage of applications accepted on first scan. Approximately 60-70% of residential and 40-50% of commercial applications are accepted on first scan, reflecting improved quality (thoroughness, accuracy, etc.) of materials prepared by the applicants.
  • Several team meeting goals, including first reviews by bureaus. Improvements occurred as bureau leaders took effective steps over the last year to reduce the time to review, including: PBOT street systems and SDC, Fire & Rescue, BDS site development including erosion and structural review. 
  • Expanded access to services. Feedback from applicants in the Sept ‘22 customer survey indicates that their access to staff to get help on the permit process has increased and the value of information on the web has improved.  
  • The 2022 City Audit Progress Report Year One noted that “the city made substantive progress across the five audit recommendations … 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.”  

    Plan review
  • Increased accountability and transparency. Digestible data is now consistent with a public dashboard on the City’s website, sharing statistics with applicants and tailored data reports, produced by BDS. This data is now shared with bureau leadership to better inform them in real time of bureau-specific slow-downs. This level of transparency supports a culture of accountability.  

  • A city-wide customer policy was created and adopted, followed by tailored customer service training for all review teams.  

  • In September ’22, four bureaus (PBOT, Water, Urban Forestry, BES) started re-visioning the permit process based on best practices of effective jurisdictions and a cross-bureau model. An Executive Manager has been hired to lead this new way of working together including how conflicts are resolved and how permits are reviewed and processed. 

Permit Improvement Task Force

Permit Improvement How Did We Get Here Slide V2

The Permit Improvement Task Force is a significant and transformative milestone in the City's efforts to streamline processes, track and improve performance metrics, and improve inter-bureau coordination. City Council is aligned around a common goal of improving permitting in Portland, and our discussions have illuminated the critical role permitting plays in the City's economic recovery and development.

Commissioner Ryan commends his fellow council members Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Mingus Mapps, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, and Commissioner Carmen Rubio for unanimously agreeing that the status quo is unacceptable.

When Commissioner Ryan first started learning about the intricacies of the City's Permitting System, he was surprised to learn that most customers seeking a permit are not large commercial builders—instead, they are residential and small business owners. He was also surprised to learn that the largest share of permit seekers are residential alterations—followed by new residential construction and commercial alterations, which are often small to medium businesses repurposing or remodeling space for their business operations.

A house under construction with workers on site

As a Council, there is a legacy opportunity to make meaningful, transformational change to ensure a safe built environment, and a timely and customer-focused process. The Permitting System impacts the City's housing shortage and our economic recovery effort—from the ability to grant permitting fee waivers for shelters to the $1.2 billion of pending projects currently in the permitting pipeline.

Our next steps include workgroups to move ahead with the City's regulatory and system design reform work, and we plan to return to Council for action this Spring. The Process Improvement work will continue to monitor monthly performance metrics, and there will be a formal report prepared for the City Auditor in March 2022.

Overall, it's clear that we are on the right track, and there is much work for our Permit Improvement Team in 2022. Commissioner Ryan looks forward to working more deeply with Commissioner Mapps, the City Bureaus, Portlanders, and Terri Theisen—our Permitting Improvement Strategy Manager—to refine the City's permitting system.

Commissioner Ryan encourages Portlanders to review the January work session and engage with us to improve this system. We need your input.

Visit the Permit Improvement website. 

Learn more about Commissioner Ryan's work for a prosperous Portland: 

  • Commissioner Ryan passed an ordinance to temporarily waive sections of the zoning code to support economic recovery. Read BDS' article on how these changes support businesses
    A screengrab from a Safe Rest Village slideshow depicting an improved point of entry from a tent on a sidewalk to a managed pod-style outdoor shelter
  • Safe Rest Villages are a critical part of Commissioner Ryan's economic recovery approach—by connecting Portlanders experiencing houselessness with services, we will bring back small businesses disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and the houselessness crisis. 
  • Commissioner Ryan negotiated an unprecedented $38M joint City/County investment in houselessness that will recruit and retain service providers, mitigate the environmental impacts of encampments, and streamline the Joint Office of Homeless Services' work to improve results. Read the joint press release. 
  • Commissioner Ryan worked with City bureaus to create a system to reimburse shelter permit fees to further remove barriers to shelter siting, using funds we advocated for and passed in the Fall BMP. 
    A person looking at a digital plan for a development.
  • Commissioner Ryan championed a challenge to Zenith Energy's fossil fuel expansion in Portland to protect our climate and the safety of NW Portlanders. Portland Mercury Coverage.
  • Commissioner Ryan advocated to meet the unique needs of affordable housing providers in code changes to the Historic Resources Code Project (HCRP) and the Design Overlay Zoning Amendments (DOZA), which will help the City provide more affordable housing on schedule. Learn more about HCRP and DOZA
  • Commissioner Ryan ensured that the Homebuyer Opportunity Limited Tax Exemption (HOLTE) will work for homebuilders while still providing affordability and homeownership for low to moderate-income households. Learn more about HOLTE
  • Commissioner Ryan actively recruited for Development Review Advisory Committee (DRAC) and Historic Landmarks Commission appointments, resulting in more diverse representation on these vital public bodies. Learn more about DRAC and the Historic Landmarks Commission