The Local Solutions in Action series highlights strategies for expanding housing options and increasing housing affordability. The focus is on land use, zoning, financial and other regulatory tools that are available to cities, counties and towns that can be used to meet the housing needs of their residents and workforce.
Expedited Development Review and Permitting
New residential construction typically goes through a process that involves review and approval by multiple local government departments (e.g., planning, zoning, transportation). The review process can sometimes lead to the necessity of re-doing project plans or conducting additional studies to gain local support for the development.
Delays and unpredictability associated with project review, zoning, permitting, entitlement, and other approvals processes add to the final costs of new housing. Some of the specific costs associated with the review and permitting process include application and review fees, requirements for special studies (e.g., transportation management, tree preservation), explicit impact fees or proffers, and other negotiated conditions. These costs typically are passed on to the final occupant of the new building and make it more difficult to build housing affordable to lower-income households.
Expedited permitting can be one way of reducing costs to help promote the development of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income households. Fast-tracking review and permitting of affordable housing projects reduces the cost of building housing at no cost to local jurisdictions. A more streamlined review and approval process may also mean fewer opportunities for community input on proposed projects which could be a hard sell. It is important, therefore, to build trust and buy-in from the larger community to support an expedited permitting process for new residential development.
Montgomery County, Maryland implemented its “Green Tape Program” to provide a streamlined and expedited permit process for new commercial construction in state-designated enterprise zones and for residential or mixed-use developments that designate at least 20 percent of the total number of housing units for residents with income levels in line with the County’s Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program. (The baseline MPDU requirement is 12.5 percent affordable units.)
Qualifying developments receive expedited application review and permit processing. The county has assigned staff to help facilitate the expedited process. The “Green Tape Team” is headed by a staff facilitator who assists applicants with the filing requirements, regulatory reviews, and inspections, including pre-design consultations and assessment inspections. The county facilitator also works with other county staff across departments to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, a seamless permitting and inspection process. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission have signed onto the “Green Tape Program” to help with the faster review of eligible projects.
Through itsS.M.A.R.T. Housing Policy, the City of Austin, Texas provides an expedited permitting process, in addition to building permit fee waivers, for transit-oriented, affordable housing. City staff work with developers of single-family and multifamily housing, as well as mixed-use developments, to promote the production of housing that is affordable to households with incomes up to 80 percent of area median income (AMI). In exchange for providing housing affordable at this level, projects can be fast-tracked through the approval and permitting processes. The amount of fee waivers depends on the amount of affordable housing provided. Projects must meet a number of other requirements, including green building requirements, to qualify for fast-track review and fee reductions. Austin’s comprehensive S.M.A.R.T. Housing Policy has resulted in the production of more than 15,000 units affordable at 80 percent of AMI since its adoption in 2000.
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