Tackling the Housing Crisis with a Modern Development Approvals and Permitting System
The housing affordability crisis in North America has evolved from a once concerning trend to a now pressing systemic issue.
According to Harvard University’s 2022 State of the Nation’s Housing report, the U.S. has an affordable housing deficit of 3.8 million homes with the greatest supply shortages at low-income price points. Reflecting this disparity between supply and demand, the median sales price of US homes more than tripled between 1992 and 2021 from just under $150,000 to over $500,00 (Source).
The situation is arguably worse in Canada where housing affordability hit a 41 year low in 2022 Q2 according to a recent study by the National Bank of Canada. Canada’s affordable housing deficit nearly matches the US, despite a much smaller population, with 3.5 million homes required to restore housing affordability according to a 2022 report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
In response to this crisis, national initiatives were introduced on both sides of the border in 2022 with the US announcing the Housing Supply Action Plan and Canada, the Housing Accelerator Fund. A common thread in both initiatives is the urgent call to modernize planning and permitting systems that play a vital role in the ability of local and regional governments to streamline the development approvals process that spurs affordable housing provision from conception to construction. By proactively identifying this technology gap, government leaders are attempting to attack the problem of housing affordability upstream where time consuming delays in the building process first emerge before spiraling into the many prohibitive factors that stall residential development—tying up development investment in punitive building delays that ultimately drive-up housing costs while delaying government tax revenues.
To respond quickly and effectively to the housing affordability crisis and take advantage of the funding available via these national initiatives, government leaders across North America are being asked to prioritize the realization of a more efficient development approvals process supported by a timely transition to modern permitting systems. This objective requires a proven implementation strategy to achieve the anticipated gains from the effective alignment of land-use regulations with efficient approval processes. For most agencies, the first steps in this transition involve the identification of experienced technology providers with a demonstrable track record of permitting system expertise and the simultaneous gathering of internal requirements to best define the system functionality required to meet your core modernization objectives.
As an award-winning technology provider with an industry unmatched 100% project success rate, the implementation experts at Computronix have developed a thorough approach for developing project requirements that is highly recommended for government agencies embarking on the path to planning and permitting modernization. Prior to diving into these details however, it is extremely helpful to first articulate the ‘big picture’ outcomes that your organization is seeking to achieve from the introduction of your modern permitting software. Defining the core wins that your new system must achieve provides your agency with a guiding vision that will serve your organization well throughout the entire modernization process from the very first requirements gathering to the final live deployment. Moreover, this definition of critical mission objectives will guide you throughout the procurement process, helping to gravitate your agency towards a full-feature permitting system proven to achieve the entirety of your project objectives, as opposed to a compromised system arriving out-of-the-box with intrinsic feature gaps, support deficiencies, and/or third-party system incompatibilities.
To assist your organization in defining the key objectives that your chosen technology solution must achieve, we’ve compiled the following list of core project deliverables that our clients have consistently achieved over 20+ years of successful planning and permitting system implementations. Most importantly, in addition to the articulation of these common project deliverables, you’ll see exactly how each deliverable works to address the long-term objective of solving the housing affordability crisis via the short-term mission of modernizing an outdated system.
The most obvious project deliverable from a macro perspective is a significant reduction in the turnaround times for plan and permit approvals, empowering jurisdictions to eliminate backlogs.
From our very first POSSE client, the City of Edmonton, who recently won a Red Tape Reduction Award by automating residential permit reviews, to our most recent, the City of Pittsburgh, who reduced permitting wait times by 19 days resulting in a 500% increase in permit activity ($200M to $1.2B), the project deliverable common to all our ‘Powered by POSSE’ clients is a substantial reduction in the time required to issue permits and progress the overall development plans process. In terms of return-on-investment, the City of Edmonton calculates that, “Service improvements and timeline reductions in the PLI Initiative will save applicants $5.3 million and 67,600 days collectively each year.”(Source)
From a bottom-line perspective, it is here that the efforts of planning and permitting modernization deliver truly impactful ROI through the digitization of outdated processes overly reliant on ‘office hours’ service desks and paper-driven processes. At its core, transitioning obsolete systems to a modern and mobile-friendly service paradigm replaces the ‘busy work’ of document retrieval and exchange with the ‘customer service’ of stakeholder collaboration and value-added consultation.
For builders, quicker permit approvals translate to quicker speed-to-market for new home construction. By reducing the carrying costs associated with planning and permitting delays, builders are equipped to bring affordable inventory to market on a timely basis without sacrificing the margins integral to the long-term viability of your development community.
For the development community, the benefits of a modernized planning and permitting system are realized from the start of the process through the provision of a user-friendly citizen portal that equips builders, developers, and architects, to apply for and proactively progress permitting, development and planning applications online—without time consuming trips to and from your planning/building department.
In addition to facilitating convenient 24/7 mobile-friendly access, modern planning and permitting systems like POSSE PLS incorporate the business rules logic specific to your jurisdiction’s building codes and regulatory requirements. As a result, interactive forms leverage this compliance logic, guiding applicants to avoid inaccurate or incomplete submissions that would otherwise cause frustrating building delays. For internal staff and the business community alike, this reduces the time-consuming back and forth of emails and phones call that frequently plague outdated systems reliant on inefficient document exchange and review. ‘Powered by POSSE’ citizen portals like OneStopPGH, eCLIPSE, and Self Serve demonstrate the robust utility of these web applications in action.
Once permitting, licensing, and planning applications are submitted, the magic of a modernized planning and permitting system is fully revealed via an open and transparent system that brings your development community together alongside planning and building departments in a common workspace. Within modern planning and permitting systems like POSSE PLS, all stakeholders to a given project are equipped for open information exchange and interaction. This system is guided by automation assistance workflows and triggers that keep all parties notified and moving forward from original application to issued permit and/or approved plan. This highly collaborative environment leads to more informed decision outputs resulting in a quicker, more streamlined planning and permitting process innately designed to minimize communication errors and oversights.
To tackle the affordable housing crisis by reducing planning approval and permit issuance timelines, proactive development planning agencies can exploit the power of automation triggers and notifications to speed the process forward with full transparency for all. As one example, timelines can be legislated at each stage of the local and regional review process including site plan, minor variance, and state/provincial reviews, with application approvals contingent upon meeting the legislated response time window.
A common project outcome for our POSSE PLS clients is the associated benefits derived from a fully integrated system encompassing permitting, inspections, planning, business & professional licensing, code enforcement, ePlans, GIS, Ad Hoc Reports, and more.
Driven by this seamless system integration, inspections are automatically linked to the application process, providing out-of-the-box workflows and permit types based on ICC best practices, as well as full compatibility with your existing permitting structure and metadata.
Leveraging the latest version of ESRI ArcGIS®, POSSE GIS empowers you to achieve the utmost benefits from your existing GIS investment. Permit applications or complaint workflows can be initiated directly from a map selection. A one-click “Locate” button quickly displays an activity type or group of activities (e.g., permits, inspections, licenses, etc.) on a map for contextual geospatial referencing and informed decision-making. From the web portal, citizens can drop an identifying pin on a map to locate an associated complaint.
In short, the implementation of a fully integrated, total product solution like POSSE PLS enables local and regional governments to offer ALL development community services in one convenient self-service location—seamlessly integrated with your POSSE and GIS data. For all project stakeholders, both internal and external, this ‘one-stop-shop’ approach streamlines planning and permitting processes for maximum efficiency and turnaround times while simultaneously yielding revenue opportunities from newfound data integrations.
At the City of Philadelphia for example, their ‘Powered by POSSE’ eCLIPSE system generated $12 million in recovered revenue by helping building inspectors scour Revenue Department records to identify tax delinquents. In years past, with a paper system across several offices, these cross-checks fell through the cracks.
Another benefit of being able to house all development services under one roof is the data accessibility a modern planning and permitting system affords the organization. A common project outcome with our ‘Powered by POSSE’ clients is the long desired ‘breaking down’ of organizational silos to facilitate robust workflows where information is readily accessible and easily shared to all internal and external stakeholders—across the entirety of their permitting, planning, inspection, and enforcement processes.
Enhanced data availability empowers operational staff with the ability to facilitate quick and accurate information retrieval. Additionally, integration between permitting and planning workflows and related documentation creates an immediately searchable and accessible paper trail. This trail equips all participants to the process to quickly confirm current details and project statuses, flagging up and notifying key actors when immediate action is required to progress a stalled application. Having such information easily accessible provides internal staff the added convenience of being able to provide required reports and/or data to third-party stakeholders for regulatory or compliance reporting requirements.
Most importantly, POSSE data is updated in real-time in the internal system, citizen portal and mobile inspection app, ensuring a ‘single source of truth’ for citizens and staff alike.
For government leaders striving to address the housing affordability crisis, rich data accessibility to this extent pays immediate dividends in empowering organizations to analyze, assess, and proactively react to emerging risk factors and market conditions. The result is a more informed, data-driven civic planning process, one that is better equipped to respond to evolving economic factors and changes in public demand.
The positive and transformative benefits of planning and permitting system modernization are particularly obvious within the building inspection process. It is here that the cumulative effects of global web access, data-accessibility, full services integration, real-time collaborative tools, and a streamlined development process, work in tandem to yield substantial efficiency gains that directly impact timely permit issuance.
Traditionally, inspectors kept notes in logbooks, posted notifications on walls, returned to their office, and then transcribed their notes into a database, before finally calling the applicant to notify them of required changes. Within this archaic workflow, an inspector could speak with a contractor or tradesperson about a problem, but the details would not be immediately communicated to the construction company or homeowner. Similarly, an inspector could make critical changes to building plans only to discover later that contractors had not been informed and continued to work from the original plans.
Rife with systemic delays and the potential for data entry errors, this inefficient and ineffective process has played a huge role in the delays that impede new housing construction, stifling the efforts of jurisdictions to properly address their housing affordability challenges.
With modern mobile inspection tools, inspectors leave their homes with all the case files and building code regulations they require accessible on their phone or tablet. Reports can be submitted directly from the inspection site and are immediately appended to the permit application where they are visible to all stakeholders to the process. If there is a deficiency, all participants are aware in real-time.
For our ‘Powered by POSSE’ customers, mobile inspection tools are another project deliverable that makes an immediate impact on their ability to streamline the inspection process to help their development community speed the supply of affordable housing to market. In fact, inspection teams can even continue working while network connectivity is lost, assured that POSSE Mobile is capturing and storing all their information and connecting with the main database whenever wireless connectivity is available. Moreover, inspectors can complete assigned inspections and schedule follow-up inspections immediately in the field, while integrated voice recognition equips them to verbally record inspection notes with automatic transcription.
Assisted by national initiatives like the Housing Supply Action Plan and the Housing Accelerator Fund, more jurisdictions are cooperating in joint initiatives to discuss best practices for streamlining planning, permitting and regulatory processes to achieve their desired goals for housing affordability. One of the key innovations being discussed is a streamlined development approval processes that functions more like the ‘just in time’ processes common to commercial manufacturing. Certainly, the building and development communities are receptive to this paradigm given their strong correlations to the manufacturing industry and the obvious advantages it presents to maximize speed to market for housing inventory while lessening the punitive delay and holding costs that are ultimately passed on to the consumer.
Given that some jurisdictions can have as many as 50 different regulators and decision stakeholders involved in a condominium development process, it speaks to the clear need to streamline the development approval process to enable a more elastic response from city planners and the development community as a whole.
It is here that a flexible planning and permitting system like POSSE PLS truly stands alone. Built on the POSSE platform, a highly configurable business rules and workflow engine, this leading edge system, empowers government planning and development agencies to consolidate application and permit types to achieve a streamlined and standardized regulatory and approvals process—one that is fine tuned to the exacting needs of your city, region, state or province.
Once again, this is a common theme in our POSSE client success stories. Given its capabilities as a fully integrated Development Approval/Plan Review/Permitting System with a comprehensive Planning Module and ePlans functionality, POSSE PLS becomes the innovation engine that agencies utilize to immediately modernize their planning and permitting systems out-of-the-box while simultaneously progressing with broader scope transformation initiatives to extend the workflow automation capabilities of POSSE PaaS throughout their organization.
In fact, the ability of the POSSE platform to support organizations launching long-term innovation initiatives is not restricted to the planning and permitting sector alone. The Alcohol Gaming Commission of Ontario is leveraging POSSE to facilitate the transformational Regulatory Assurance Solution (RAS) Project. The Regional Municipality of Durham, implemented their ‘Powered by POSSE’ solution to streamline the permit application process for a land management region encompassing eight municipalities with a total population of over 682,000 citizens, delivering improved accessibility and usability for developers, agencies, and planners alike. In Pennsylvania, both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia powered their transformational OneStopPGH and eCLIPSE projects respectively with POSSE systems designed to accommodate the full breadth of permitting, licensing, planning, and enforcement service volumes required for these major metropolitan areas. In the Canadian province of British Columbia, both the Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Environment launched POSSE solutions to modernize their e-licensing workflows with the client assessments speaking for themselves:
“Permits, authorizations, tenures, licenses and more—the e-Licensing experience has proven that the issuance and management of these business processes is very similar across government and lends itself to opportunities for automation and subsequent reuse of a single, integrated solution.”
Mike Kelley, Director, E-Licensing BC
Government of British Columbia
“On behalf of the Natural Resource Sector, we would like to thank all of you. We have moved a giant leap forward in extending our E-Licensing enterprise footprint. I should add you are a great company, very light on your feet, responsive, technically superior, fun, and no big-company BS.”
Chris Grant, E-Licensing
British Columbia Ministry of Environment
Process Innovation is the Key to Solving the Affordable Housing Crisis
Jurisdictions across North America are in a race, a race to get new housing stocks to market to solve what has now become a systemic crisis—a growing lack of affordable housing. With the goal of home ownership being the fuel that fires the economy and the dream of prosperity for all citizens, it is a crisis that is being met with the necessary urgency and political will. Initiatives like the Housing Supply Action Plan in the US, and the Housing Accelerator Fund in Canada, provide the guidance and the funding needed for local and regional government agencies to win this race. In conjunction with an intelligent strategy for effective process re-engineering and change management guided by the implementation experts at Computronix, the next step is choosing the right planning and permitting system to get your jurisdiction to the finish line as quickly and effectively as possible.
Modern planning and permitting systems like POSSE PLS deliver the key project wins required to enable your jurisdiction to meet the housing affordability challenge, utilizing a proven solution with a demonstrable record of implementation success and customer achievement.
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