Dallas’ Chief Building Official Andrew Espinoza took over the city’s Development Services Department (DSD) in the second quarter of 2022 only to inherit one of the most talked-about permit backlogs in the country.
While other major metroplexes have experienced unique permit issues, Dallas’ slow transition to a new permit software during the pandemic and a persistent staff shortage has made solving the permit backlog an arduous task.
Espinoza accepted that task, and while his job is far from finished, he has made incremental progress in chipping away at the backlog and strengthening community involvement and engagement.
The Dallas Express has tracked that progress over the ladder half of the year and compiled a timeline or breakdown of DSD’s key activities from May to October using the Department’s monthly newsletter.
DSD’s newsletters are published towards the end of each month and cover the previous month’s events. Permit data listed in each month’s newsletters serve as a snapshot of estimated permit data up to the point it was published. Revisions to the data are made with each subsequent month as data is finalized.
Espinoza officially became DSD Director in early May with an endorsement of Dallas’ Assistant City Manager, Majed Al-Ghafry, who praised his extensive background in the field and his ideas for improving the department. Most of the progress trickled out in the months that followed.
One of the first internal changes to occur after Espinoza’s arrival, besides onboarding several new DSD members, was an upgrade to the department’s contact line, which was changed to [email protected] to allow customers a more response-focused means of reaching Dallas’ chief or deputy chief building official with questions.
The department also began taking initial steps towards transitioning from the current building permit software to a new cloud-based one. Meanwhile, permit data for the month showed that DSD created 186 new single-family residential (NSF) permits over May, which took approximately 58 days to issue, according to DSD permit data.
As June rolled around and the summer months kicked off, DSD’s new permits software, ProjectDox 9.2, was in full swing — but certainly not without its flaws.
To familiarize the community with the new software enhancements, DSD began to offer plan review training sessions for its internal and external customers. The training sessions took place at a new Training Center located at 400 S. Zang Blvd.
In response to requests for greater transparency with the general public and customers, DSD announced that it would begin publishing monthly new construction permit maps and permit tables, and monthly permit reports.
As far as permit activity for the month, DSD’s Residential Plan Review Team created 206 NSF permits in June, which fell short of the department’s target goal of 210 but was a positive increase from the previous month. The average number of days to issue these permits was 32 days. At the time, DSD attributed the monthly variance to system issues with the new permit software.
July was an active month for DSD, which launched several new initiatives and programs geared toward enhancing the customer experience and reducing permit times. One of these was a Pilot Customer Service initiative called Pop-Up Permit Saturdays. The initiative allowed DSD to open the Permit Service Center once a month for homeowners and do-it-yourselfers to acquire simple permits for minor home repairs and upgrades.
The department also put together three first-time events in July. The first was a comprehensive Monthly Report Card and performance metrics. The second was a hiring event held at J. Erik Jonsson Central Library located at 1515 Young St. Lastly, DSD published its first Service First Bulletin detailing its Minor Residential Plan Review Process.
Even though DSD had success with the launch of its new initiatives and programs, the department actually created the least amount of NSF permits since Espinoza took over, a decrease of 52 from the 206 reported in June. The days to issue also ticked slightly higher, increasing from 32 in June to 33 in July.
Despite Espinoza and his team launching several new initiatives and programs over the summer, the permit backlog remained, causing a negative predicament for City Manager T.C. Broadnax, who nearly lost his job over the problem. Although Broadnax’s firing never materialized, public pressure has mounted, with city officials and real estate developers continuing to hold his proverbial feet to the fire.
Part 2 of DSD’s six-month recap details Espinoza’s monthly post-summer progress and the sentiment surrounding Broadnax’s ability (or lack thereof) to tackle Dallas’ building permit backlog effectively.
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