Like Dallas, Austin Struggles With Slow Building Permitting Process

Like Dallas, Austin Struggles With Slow Building Permitting Process
Interior of home under construction | Image by Shutterstock

Austin’s urban development has played a central role in the city’s multi-decade growth, but like Dallas, the state’s capital has had a troubled history with its slow and backlogged building permit process.

In Austin, the Development Services Department (DSD) Residential Intake Team (RIT) is in charge of processing residential permit applications.

The building permit process in Dallas is handled similarly by its DSD, which hired Andrew Espinoza as its director and chief building official in June.

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Austin and Dallas both transitioned to an online permitting process with the hope of improving the user experience and creating faster turnaround times.

In Austin, the RIT’s move to digital processing involved using a resource email account to manage the high volume of permit requests.

Unfortunately, the enormous volume of applications created significant delays, higher costs, and customer dissatisfaction, which led the City’s DSD to phase out the process in 2021 and switch to a “webform” portal for residential application requests.

Texas developer and broker Scott Turner criticized Austin’s permitting process in 2021, citing excessive wait times. A non-expedited permitting process should take one month; right now, it’s about four months, he said.

Earlier in August, Dallas’ DSD rolled out a new cloud-based permit software called ProjectDox 9.2. As part of the upgrade to ProjectDox 9.2, Dallas’ permitting software was moved from an on-premises application operated out of the City’s data center to a Software-as-a-Service application. Although somewhat improved, the process is still far from efficient.

In terms of the higher costs, builders were caught off their guard in 2021 by the rising price of lumber, slab, and other building materials. The annual inflation rate during this time increased from 1.4% in January 2021 to 7.03% only 12 months later.

The repercussions of Austin and Dallas’ slow permit process meant developers were stuck with surprise increases to various crucial building materials. A year later, these same developers are now dealing with the devastating effects of rising interest rates, which have made the cost of borrowing money even more expensive.

Still, some industry leaders, such as Eric Bramlett of Bramlett Residential Real Estate, suggest that Austin’s permit backlog problem mutated into an “open permits” problem.

Open permits are defined as either “active” or “expired.” These open permits create a problem for Austin’s DSD, which does not allow applicants to obtain a new permit if they have an existing permit open.

Right now, it is not an exaggeration to claim that open permits are a “nightmare,” according to Bramlett.

“There are many vendors – pool builders, plumbers, electricians, irrigation companies – who will open a permit, complete the work, and never call in the final inspection that closes out the job,” Bramlett claimed. “When this happens, you have an open permit.”

To close an expired building permit, such as one for a residential swimming pool, customers must contact their local municipality and have a building inspector ascertain whether the work did or did not comply with municipal building-code requirements.

“If you’re going to be purchasing a home, especially because you’re going to own it after that close, check online or check with the jurisdiction that it is in to see if there are any open permits, they can create an issue for you later,” advised Ken Price, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning director at Radiant Plumbing & Air.

For instance, suppose a previous homeowner opened a building permit for a barn that was never completed or never closed. The new homeowner would need to close out that permit before any new permits could be submitted.

Despite strong growth opportunities in North Texas, Dallas’ DSD still has a long way to go before the City’s permitting process is back on track and able to deliver permits in a timely and competitive manner.    

Support our non-profit journalism

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Continue reading on the app
Expand article