Technology's Role in Addressing Permit Delays and the Housing Crisis

May 27, 2022

If there’s one thing governments can do now to address permitting inefficiencies exacerbating the housing crisis, it’s invest in the right technology. At least as a start, says 20+ year permitting industry veteran, and Clariti VP of Industry Alliances, Sridhar (Sri) Subramanian

Underperforming government permitting technology - or lack thereof - is one of the root causes of permitting departments’ operational pains, and is largely to blame for the critical housing shortage in both the U.S. and Canada. Manual or semi-manual systems simply can’t support the current volume of permit applications, and certainly have no chance of scaling to meet future population demands.

Current development approvals processes (in the absence of permit software) are slow, complex, and largely flawed. The process of acquiring a building or land use permit can take weeks, months, or even years, and besides driving up costs for builders and the issuing departments themselves, can inflate home prices, too. 

Half the time, developers aren’t aware of the approvals required for a project (to no fault of their own), and because the end-to-end process involves so many stakeholders, and encompasses so many regulations, bylaws, codes, and policies, getting from permit application to a shovel in the ground is inherently complex. As Sri explains, it’s somewhat of a cocktail for confusion and delays.

“The [building permit approvals process] encompasses a variety of business processes emanating from a wide range of legislative requirements such as the planning act, building codes act, municipal act, environmental protection act, and so on. Plus a cocktail of provincial regulations and municipal bylaws that need to be adhered to, and a multitude of external agencies and provincial ministries that are included in the circulation and review of development applications - all intertwined to make the process uber complex.”

Suffice to say, without a centralized system to manage deliverables and automatically check for compliance, the building permitting process is too slow, and lacks a mechanism to hold stakeholders accountable to deadlines, ultimately resulting in the lengthy delays synonymous with the construction industry.

But - it can be easier. 

With highly-configurable building permit software, and an online community portal for quick and easy access to permitting services, governments can connect stakeholders and work streams into one centralized system, and save a ton of time and effort. 

Emphasizing the critical role of good communication to building permitting efficiency, and how much a central permitting portal can improve not only that, but how involved stakeholders collaborate, Sri notes that the benefit of one central portal for both staff and applicants to use to access services and manage deliverables cannot be overstated. Especially if municipalities can standardize their processes so acquiring a permit is the same from place to place, the efficiency gains would be huge. 

The Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, in fact, in a report looking at streamlining construction approvals in Ontario, found that reducing delays in approval processes by 6 months over a 5 year period could result in an additional 33,100 units of housing above and beyond current baseline trends, and an additional $4.5 billion pumped into Ontario’s economy on an annual basis. All achievable by going digital and cutting the regulatory red tape.

Similarly, in the U.S., a study found that accelerating permit approvals by 3 months in a 22-month project cycle could increase construction spending by 5.7%, and property tax revenue by 16% - a win-win for increasing home construction and government revenue at the same time.

Ultimately, Sri explains that governments’ first step should be to embrace technology, because it’s an investment in the present and future wellbeing of communities and economies, and in addition to simply making building permitting less frustrating and time consuming, can help get more homes built fast. 

Furthermore, permitting technology can ensure that buildings are inspected on time, and that necessary building safety updates are made proactively in response to our changing climate. 

To sum it up, pre-configured building permit software - or land management software for governments looking to also integrate planning and zoning workflows - can help governments increase efficiency and fast-track permit approvals, and ensure success in the following 5 ways, says Sri: 

    1. Improving communication. Different departments and external stakeholders can all communicate and collaborate through one centralized portal.
    2. Centralizing information and making it easier to access. All information is accessible online and updated in real-time to minimize or eliminate errors and duplicate work.
    3. Empowering staff. Staff are supported in their role with the technology they need to be efficient, and empowered to own their system, easily making updates or changes to workflows or requirements without IT support.
    4. Streamlining work streams. All permitting functions are united into one system, eradicating siloes and making everyday tasks quicker and easier.
    5. Enabling code-free updates and changes. Staff can make updates or changes to requirements with clicks, not code, so updates don’t result in system downtime or service disruptions.

At the end of the day, a permit is a permit, and an inspection is an inspection, so there’s no reason the process can’t be more efficient and uniform across municipalities. The solution is there - we just need to act on it. 

Curious to learn more about permit software and how it can help address permitting inefficiencies and the housing crisis? Download our comprehensive Permit Software Buyers Guide meant to make selecting a permitting solution easy. 


Subscribe by Email