Streamlining the permitting process
What's already been happening.
I think of there being four bottlenecks to building more housing:
One thing I like to do is read through reports. (In software the saying is “RTFM.”)
Reading through the reports from the permitting task force (led by the city manager) initiated by Kennedy Stewart in March 2021, the permitting backlog was really dire. From the September 2021 presentation, p. 11:
Q1/Q2 2021 has seen a doubling of applications over same time period in 2020
Housing Review Branch experienced significant staffing shortage over the summer
Went from 2 of 13 positions staffed to now fully staffed and fully trained
It sounds like normally things are set up to deal with a reasonably steady level of incoming applications. When Covid hit, nobody could meet, so everything went through email, resulting in a flood of email; the rate of housing applications basically doubled overnight; and staff were shorthanded - presumably there were people who were laid off (revenue was down), or out sick, or dealing with childcare, or quit. It's like a denial of service attack.
Staff basically have to follow the rules laid down by council. Reading through the task force reports, there's some clear expression of frustration with the novice council making changes all the time. June 2021 report:
Prior to the current moratorium that was voted on by Council on March 31, 2021, new regulations were being layered on regularly, creating a moving target that makes transformation difficult and diverting resources away from the processing of permits and licenses to the implementation and change management efforts related to the emerging and sometimes conflicting policies. Given that many emerging policies are time sensitive, new conditions are typically added into the existing business model. This regulatory complexity, combined with technology gaps, COVID impacts and resource consequences as a result of decreasing revenues led to an unsustainable imbalance between application demand and staff capacity to process that demand.
Sounds like there's work underway to move from paper to electronic handling:
Leading in to the COVID-19 pandemic, the regulatory system was reaching its capacity and several initiatives were underway to modernize the largely manual system underlying permit and license service delivery and application processing. This process and technology transformation program continues to be an organizational priority and is in progress, but timelines associated with technology and transformation projects are typically multi-year.
A later report says that everything except building permits is now done through an electronic system called ePlan.
By March 2022, a lot of progress was made. Daily Hive: City of Vancouver makes progress on clearing big backlog of new single-family home applications. Besides clearing the housing permit backlog:
Review time per application for single-family, duplex, and laneway homes have been reduced by 75%, leading to a 300% increase in applications processed.
Laneway home applications now seeing their initial review three months faster
Direct-to-inspections process now issuing permits in as little as two weeks for simple renovations — seven weeks faster than previous.
Because staff has to follow the rules laid out by council, streamlining the process required getting council approval for a number of things:
Temporarily relax detailed architectural design and landscape review for neighbourhood character / streetscape
Temporarily increase the threshold for requiring a permit to remove a tree (from diameter of 20cm to 30cm)
Postpone implementation of zero-emission requirements for all new homes
For non-market and rental housing projects, allow excavation to begin before development permit granted (saved a MIRHPP project five months)
Allow switching between certain uses (retail, general office, health care, salon) without a development permit application
Reduce upgrades required when subdividing a space
Increase threshold for parking minimums
I'm thinking it'd be good to keep this task force in place permanently, to keep looking for ways to streamline the permitting process. There's some things they can do internally (there's mention of "speeding up the way ASHRAE energy-standard compliance data is collected"), but in a lot of cases they'll need to make recommendations to council to change or simplify the rules.
Daily Hive articles talking about the permitting task force, over the last year or so:
Vancouver City Council approves expedited building construction process, September 2021.
City of Vancouver cuts red tape for businesses by simplifying permitting and licensing, October 2021.
City of Vancouver facing backlog of 500 single-family home building applications, January 2022.