NW REporter

Homebuilder group outlines steps to streamline permit process

Improving permit review times for housing projects and having more transparency around timelines would benefit city staff, builders, and ultimately, consumers, suggests the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS).  With those outcomes in mind, the homebuilders’ association published an Issue Brief.

The two-page document features a chart outlining various review types with MBAKS desired target times (in days) for each category. It includes pre-app meeting, preliminary plat review, land use review, inspections, critical area review, and others. Among MBAKS’ recommendations are a 28-day timeframe for application completeness, same day turnaround on inspections, and 14-day target for final plat review.

“Taking steps to improve permit review times and increase timeline transparency will help jurisdictions better achieve their housing goals,” the document states. MBAKS lists a half-dozen steps that could be taken to improve and expedite the permitting process.

In response to commonly cited reasons for permitting delays, MBAKS recommends jurisdictions advocate for state funding to develop needed staff capacity and help improve predictability and performance.

“In many jurisdictions, permit review timelines are long, unpredictable, and inconsistent,” the authors of the document note. Citing research from the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), the average building permit approval timeline in Washington state is 6.5 months, which adds more than $25,000 to the cost of a building.

In explaining why permit timelines matter, the document states a lack of certainty around timelines adds risk and unpredictability to projects. Additionally, more than 55,000 people are priced out of home ownership opportunities, and the prolonged process ties up builders’ capital and adds carrying costs that drive up the price of new homes.

The builders’ Issue Brief notes many cities in the Puget Sound region do not publish data on typical permit wait times as required under the Local Project Review Act. That Act (RCW 36.70B.080) requires applicants to be notified of permit determination within 28 days. It also requires that complete project permits be processed within 120 days and calls for a 90-day turnaround for preliminary plat applications.

The Act also spells out public reporting requirements that jurisdictions with a population of 20,000-plus are required to prepare.

MBAKS believes jurisdictions can bring housing to market sooner by tracking and being accountable to permit timelines. “There is an urgent need to build more homes,” the builders’ document emphasizes, noting Up for Growth estimates that the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area is already more than 80,000 homes behind building the housing needed to accommodate anticipated population growth. (Editor’s note: Up for Growth has 243 member organizations across the U.S., including 31 in Washington state. It is a national, cross-sector member network committed to solving the housing shortage and affordability crisis through data-driven research and evidence-based policy.)

Bellevue-based MBAKS is the nation’s oldest and largest local homebuilders’ association whose members are involved in all facets of homebuilding.