expedite permitting: overview

What are expedited permitting and review policies?

While permitting and review processes play an important role in ensuring newly built or renovated homes and apartments meet health, safety, environmental, and other standards, a lengthy or complex approvals process also can lead to unnecessary delays and increased expenses that make it difficult to deliver affordable homes. Policies that expedite the permitting and review process reduce the time, cost, and risk of development. These policies can streamline the overall development approvals process for all homes and apartments and/or can set up special channels through which developers of affordable homes receive priority consideration for permit requests and other administrative processes.

What problems do these policies solve?

Efforts to expedite permitting and review processes generally focus on remedying administrative inefficiencies that cause delay in the development process. These delays are often the product of a series of well-intentioned building, zoning, and environmental codes that have, in the aggregate, created a system in which it may take years to obtain the necessary approvals for development.

When developers are required to submit multiple permit applications and secure approvals from an array of agencies -- each with its own timetable and set of organizational procedures -- before building can begin, the resulting delays can drive up the costs of new homes and apartments. Outdated requirements in the local zoning code and other policies that make the development process needlessly cumbersome cause further delays and introduce uncertainty into the development process. Expedited permitting and review policies address these obstacles by restructuring regulatory processes to emphasize efficiency, predictability, and cost savings for both the public and private sectors while still protecting the health, safety and welfare of the general public.

Where are these policies most applicable?

Nearly all communities require builders to get building permits and secure numerous other approvals when beginning new construction or undertaking substantial rehab. All communities could benefit from a development approval process that is efficient and predictable, especially in a time of budget constraints. Such a process creates cost savings for the community by reducing redundant review and staff time while improving the morale and retention of public employees by eliminating confusing and stressful procedures. The overall community benefits by increasing housing affordability through either increased housing production or through special treatment of affordable housing proposals. Areas where demand for new housing is greatest and the combined burden of existing regulations the heaviest are likely to see the most benefit.

In volatile economic times, developers often must revise approved development plans to reflect new market realities, such as changing a condo development to an apartment development. Such revisions often require rapid approval due to increasingly stringent financing requirements. An expedited review process can make the difference between these projects surviving or being shut down.
Solutions in Action
Villas on Sixth
Photo courtesy of City of Austin/Neighborhood Housing and Community Development

The Villas on Sixth in Austin, Texas, was designed to be in compliance with Austin's S.M.A.R.T. Housing Initiative, a self-funded program that uses expedited review and fee waivers to stimulate the production of affordable homes.

Residences built under this program are intended to be safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced, and transit-oriented (hence the S.M.A.R.T. acronym).

Visit the Gallery to learn more about the Villas on Sixth and the S.M.A.R.T. Housing Initiative.

Communities with high rates of foreclosures benefit from a process that allows
foreclosed homes, many of which require significant repair, to be quickly returned to residential use, thereby assisting with stabilization of the neighborhood. In some of these communities, redevelopment, rather than rehabilitation, might be appropriate. An approval process that facilitates such redevelopment helps create new jobs and tax revenues while stabilizing the neighborhood and promoting economic recovery.  Some municipalities also use expedited permitting processes to reduce the time needed and lower the cost of modifying homes to make them more accessible for older adults -- click here to learn more.

Chatham SquareLearn more about expedited permitting and review policies

Mandela GatewayGo back to learn about other policies that help reduce red tape

The Center for Housing Policy gratefully acknowledges the input and feedback provided for this policy section by reviewer Debra Bassert, National Association of Home Builders. Please note, however, that the views and opinions expressed on HousingPolicy.org are those of the Center for Housing Policy alone.