Deadlines Alone Insufficient to Solve the Affordable Housing Crisis

With housing-affordability a massive concern across North America, numerous states and provinces are now implementing ‘shot clock’ legislation to expedite the review of development plan and/or building permit applications. From California to Florida, Texas to Washington, Ontario to British Columbia, widespread efforts to increase new housing stocks are being bolstered by legislation intended to set concrete deadlines to ensure expedited permitting outcomes. Failure of the municipality to meet such deadlines will typically result in one of two consequences, 1) The permitting fee is refunded or, 2) The planning application can be taken to a third-party reviewer instead. In the latter scenario, a third-party reviewer is selected from a qualified pool of code-enforcement officials, professional engineers, or architects.


By hitting planning departments where it ‘hurts’ with a potential loss of permitting fees, the hope is the introduction of deadline triggers (comparable to similar private sector pressures) will incentivize both a more-timely response to building applications AND more efficient processes guiding the review and approval of new housing permits. While a newfound sense of urgency is undoubtedly a positive development in the efforts to address the housing affordability crisis, it may be naïve to believe that deadline pressures alone can solve the problem. In Ontario, Canada, for instance where specific housing targets have been established for 29 of the province’s municipalities, recent construction stats indicate a meager 2 jurisdictions are on pace to meet their targets with the majority of cities proceeding at roughly 50 to 65 per cent of the target pace.


The Two Resource Issues Impeding Affordable Housing


For development plan reviewers working on the frontlines to expedite new building applications, increased deadline pressures alone can’t overcome the dual resource issues plaguing community development and land management agencies. The first of these resource issues is the shrinking pool of qualified plan review staff that is spurring a large scale reliance on short-term consultants to help clear permitting backlogs. Faced with a ‘greying out’ trend that is reducing the number of new candidates entering the building compliance field, there is a growing realization that simply ‘throwing more bodies’ at the problem is not a sustainable, long-term fix for the systemic issues plaguing plan approvals from initial submission through to final permit issuance.  This leads us to the second and most prohibitive resource issue: the prevalence of outdated permitting technology preventing efficient workflows to expedite permitting outcomes.


Based on the findings of numerous independent studies from both government and building community experts, the modernization of planning & permitting systems is now widely recognized as a core dependency in the realization of a consistent, timely response to the housing needs of the marketplace.  In cities like Edmonton, Canada, an early adopter of modern planning and permitting software, award-winning results are spotlighting the direct correlation between efficient workflows empowered by user-friendly permitting software and affordable housing gains achieved by the building community.


Given the critical role modern planning software plays in achieving aggressive goals for new home construction, many jurisdictions lagging behind their current building targets are no longer asking ‘why’ they need to modernize permitting technology. Instead, they have turned their focus to ‘how’ soon can they get the necessary systems in place? In the State of Washington for example, legislators have approved a new Senate Bill, Bill 5290, offering $3M per jurisdiction in grant funding to expedite permitting processes and software modernization across the State. This grant funding accompanies ‘shot-clock’ inspired deadlines for permit reviews, enforced by partial refunds on permitting fees when deadlines are not met. North of the border, the Canadian Federal Government has launched the $4B Housing Accelerator Fund, with funding to fix outdated permitting systems provided both upfront to support implementation as well as upon the delivery of results.


In short, those jurisdictions prioritizing a truly robust response to the affordable housing crisis are not just escalating deadlines. They are also giving their community development and land management agencies the wherewithal to meet these aggressive new timelines with sufficient funding allocated to modernize legacy planning and permitting systems that have passed into obsolescence. With prospective homeowners and the building community both demanding urgent actions to help facilitate affordable housing inventory and legislators aligning to establish stringent deadlines and funding opportunities for technology modernization, the pressure is increasing for government procurement staff. With modern planning and permitting software needed ‘yesterday’ by so many jurisdictions across North America, an excessively lengthy or overly bureaucratic procurement process is now recognized as a key obstacle preventing the timely implementation of the modern planning technology needed to eliminate archaic paper-driven processes in favor of convenient digital self-services.


For this reason, jurisdictions looking to address the affordable housing crisis with the necessary urgency are increasingly embracing the growing government movement towards cooperative purchasing.


Cooperative Contracts Expedite the Purchasing Process


The key advantage of Cooperative Contracts is they enable an organization to leverage the many steps another agency has already completed to facilitate a competitive procurement and bidding process, including:

  • Market research
  • Writing the bid solicitation
  • Advertising the bid solicitation
  • Receiving and evaluating proposals
  • Negotiating a contract

A conventional competitive process can take anywhere from 4 to 24 months, not to mention the negotiation and awarding of the contract to follow. This process can be further elongated when government agencies are tasked with procuring unfamiliar and/or highly technical solutions or services requiring extensive research and due diligence.  By partnering with a lead agency, organizations can leverage the experience and expertise of those with specialized knowledge in the sector including the contract infrastructure required to ensure the necessary legal and compliance frameworks. Cooperative purchasing can equip agencies to identify best-in-class products, share research, and expedite the purchase process without the need for additional operating budgets or staff resources. Finally, and most importantly, cooperative contracts can save your agency money on the bottom line by aggregating your purchasing power with one or more agencies investing in a solution with comparable requirements. This is a particularly effective for province or statewide initiatives to modernize permitting software where multiple jurisdictions are being actively encouraged to participate in a potential cooperative purchasing venture.


For more information on cooperative purchasing in the US, visit the NASPO (National Association of State Procurement Officials) website. In Canada, the PSPC (Public Services and Procurement Canada) portal is your best source for applicable information.


Next Steps


With ‘Shot Clock’ legislation to shorten permitting deadlines either looming or already passed in several jurisdictions across North America, time is of the essence. With the rapid implementation of modern permitting software identified as a fundamental requirement for legislative compliance in several municipalities, a cooperative purchasing agreement can be the vital asset to get your community development agency to the finish line quickly and efficiently. In tandem with these efforts, procurement staff are also well served to facilitate an informative Discovery Demo for a proven planning and permitting software system like POSSE PLS. Through this no-obligation discovery process, city planners and compliance experts can experience the workflow automation and planning efficiencies achievable within a modern, feature-rich enterprise solution purpose built for today’s government planning and permitting requirements.


Moreover, in addition to the right cooperative purchasing agreement, there are a handful of highly effective tactics that your organization can leverage to ensure your efforts result in rapid and effective procurement and system implementation. In our next blogpost in this series, we’ll discuss each of these tactics in detail to give your agency a concise action plan to fast track a modern planning and permitting system. Follow these steps and not only will your team get your shot off before the clock expires, you’ll hit ‘nothing but net’ in the process!


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