Managing Worsening Permit Delays During the Covid Crisis

Managing Worsening Permit Delays During the Covid Crisis

As the public and private sectors continue to evaluate and adjust to the changing landscape of life during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is critical that contractors build permit processing delays into not just their project plans but financial models as well.

During the peak of the shutdown, almost all permit processing offices suffered through adjusting processes or simply stopped working. For example, in March, the city of Atlanta shut down all services and then – as quickly as they could – switched to online-only applications. Washington, DC’s Zoning Commission cancelled all hearings, and Chicago postponed all meetings of its Zoning Board of Appeals.

Even now, as states open up, some government services continue to be conducted primarily through electronic means, and those many offices that have in-person availability require appointments made days, if not weeks, in advance. The result is a large backlog of applications and slower processing times overall. In fact, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders, 90% of multifamily developers said it is taking longer to obtain plan reviews, and while obtaining an inspection was one of the least-common problems cited, it was still an issue for over 60% of respondents.

A similar survey by the National Multifamily Housing Council showed delays getting worse over time, with the number of contractors seeing permit delays growing from 76% in the first round of the survey to 85% in the third round. And with recent spikes in Covid-19 cases throughout the South and Southwest, you can expect additional restrictions – if not a return to shutdowns – if trends continue.

Keep in mind that it is not just businesses that are adjusting to new strains on their margins and processes. Government agencies are already strained by decreased Q1 and Q2 tax revenue. Then there are the costs involved in additional requirements on their end to protect staff. And even though businesses are opening back up, bars and restaurants are not seeing the business they once did as people opt to avoid large crowds.


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This means that agencies that already were struggling with tighter budgets will have to cut back even more, shrinking both personnel and material resources, strained even further by local board meetings designed to make decisions and move items forward meet less frequently or not at all.

As the spiral continues, delays will mount, and plans will wait.

It would be easy to throw your hands up and scream. Nobody would blame you.

Venting your frustration might make you feel better. But it won’t fix the problem. Instead, consider your situation and be proactive. Know your landscape and adjust accordingly. Now is the time to take stock of project and permit needs for not just new project approvals, but renewals, extensions, and amendments as well.

Here are five things you can do to get ahead of projects, so you are not blindsided by delays that come down the line:

  • Create a document that lists all of your current permits and when they expire. Plan two months out to either submit renewals or request extensions.
  • Ask communities where you are working how often local planning commissions, city councils, etc., are meeting and whether they are addressing full or partial dockets to move through requests.
  • Once your paperwork – digital or traditional – is filed, follow up weekly to ensure the staff is processing the request.
  • Call your legislators. If the approval process is bogged down so far to adversely affect your business, local and state legislators can pass laws to grant relief while government offices catch up.
  • Talk to a professional. This is a lot to keep up with. Express Permits can do it for you. Remove this one part from your plate in order to keep everything else running smoothly and efficiently.

Express Permits has the experience and knowledge to help you navigate your situation. Contact us to learn how we can help you manage the permitting process now and into the future.

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