Audit Finds Portland's Permit Process Hampers Business and Housing Creation
Persistent problems in the City’s building permit process have moved from frustrating to potentially consequential for Portland’s post-pandemic economic recovery. They won’t get resolved without better coordination among bureaus, improved management practices, and sustained attention from City Council, according to an audit report released today by City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero.
Portland’s system for reviewing building permit applications is too slow, doesn’t follow its own customer complaint policy, doesn’t have performance goals it should, or the systems needed to achieve them, the audit found.
“The City’s review process makes it harder to build housing and conduct business here,” Hull Caballero said. “Many of City Council’s goals will be harder to solve unless it acts as a legislative body to evaluate the regulatory environment and as commissioners-in-charge to hold their bureaus accountable for necessary changes.”
The audit found Portland’s commission-form government makes managing the building permits system difficult. Seven bureaus led by different commissioners are responsible for permit plan reviews, but no one entity manages the system. Bureaus are working on improvement projects, but progress has been slow, and other City initiatives to simplify Portland’s regulatory environment have stalled.
The report recommends the Bureau of Development Services coordinate with other permitting bureaus to establish effective systems for management and customer complaints. It also recommends Development Services’ Commissioner Dan Ryan work with Council to complete slow and stalled projects to improve customer service and hold bureaus accountable for results.