Dallasites have endured months-long waits for building permits for about two years now, but as of updates given at the latest City Council briefing, that could change by next year.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax and Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry came before the Council on May 18 after Council member Paula Blackmon sent Broadnax a memo in April requesting a presentation of the plan to fix permit issues in the city. This came following Mayor Eric Johnson’s creation of the Mayor’s Working Group on Permitting in February, which he appointed Blackmon to lead.
Majed Al-Ghafry shared some of the progress made, including hiring a director/chief building official and deputy chief building official. He also shared that the permit center is now fully opened and staffed, residential permit wait times are lower, communications are improved both internally and externally, and there have been intentional improvements on customer service.
However, there is still a plan to continue lowering wait times. The city plans to continue making improvements, such as hiring more workers and working with a third-party group to aid in lowering permit wait times, among other developments. City Council members, such as Jaynie Schultz, felt the best way to solve the issue is bringing more people on board.
“If we need the people, hire the people,” Schultz said. “Pay them. That’s how we’re going to get the work done.”
It takes four months to get a commercial building permit and 35 days to obtain a residential one, but estimated wait times for these people were 10 to 12 weeks. Dallas has 29 full-time permit reviewers, while Austin has 38, Houston has 60, and San Antonio has 77, according to the presentation’s appendix.
About halfway through the discussion, Council Member Tennell Atkins asked how long it will be until the permit wait times are fixed.
“We’re probably looking at a nine-month period where everything is going to be in great order, if not a perfect order,” Al-Ghafry said. “It can’t be fixed in one month; I’ll tell you that. I’m not having wrong expectations, but certain things will be fixed in a month.”
The city is prioritizing what to work on first to solve the issue, Al-Ghafry said. In the next month, these prioritized items include intake, processes, the dashboard, a compensation study, and technology.
Broadnax said “back in the good ol’ bad days,” people would be more patient with permit issues out of fears that it would get worse. In recent months, however, word has spread and the media has picked up on the conversations surrounding the issue, leading people to “call and flood” with emails regarding permit wait times, despite being before the traditional three-week wait time, he said.
“My point in saying that is it is creating more of a fervor around a calamity, which in some people’s minds and in some realities it is real. I’m saying it doesn’t help as I hear, at least [from] my perspective, you talk about morale.”
Johnson said he has stayed up to date with the discourse surrounding the permitting issue and wants the city to be able to efficiently get the job done. In this case, he said the city needs to sufficiently hold people accountable, rather than “give A’s for effort.”
“To say that one of our issues here is PR suggests that somehow these criticisms are overblown or somehow baseless or whatever […], I think we need to understand what would be the motivation of folks to exaggerate this problem?” Johnson said.