At-Large Position 5

Houston Permitting Center Improvements

I continue to strongly advocate for streamlined processes, improved customer service, and greater efficiency at the Houston Permitting Center (HPC). In July 2022, my colleague Council Member David Robinson and I hosted the city’s first-ever Permitting Panel. More than 100 stakeholders attended the breakfast to hear from HPC leadership and members of the HPC advisory board. The program began with an overview of the HPC and concluded with a robust question-and-answer section. To review the presentation with HPC Director Chris Butler's commentary, click here.

During my first term, the Mayor's HPC advisory board held monthly meetings, which I attended regularly. This group of industry stakeholders have been involved with the implementation of several recommendations at HPC over the last year including:

  • Redesigning prerequisite checklists, applications, and adding new resources for developers and homeowners
  • Improving communication efforts including redesigning website information, online newsletter enhancements, and creating how-to videos
  • Expanding a live chat service platform and creating an AskHPC help line for same day response
  • Assigning a single point of contact (plan reviewer) for projects
  • Adding staff augmentation contracts expediting thousands of plans
    • The Bureau Veritas North America contract was approved by city council in March 2022 to assist with expedited plan reviews a day for both building code enforcement and storm.
    • In 2022, Isani Consultants was also contracted to provide six structural plan analysts to assist with commercial plan reviews.
    • In June 2023, city council approved another $17M contract with Versa Infrastructure to provide additional resources related to construction permitting and code enforcement. This contract will also provide professional review services for the Plan Review Express program for customers wishing to pay an additional fee for expedited plan review. Criteria measures for this program include:
      • Plans that have completed at least one plan review cycle
      • Review of plans will be returned within 24 hours (or by noon the next business day)
      • Number of plans submitted for contractor review will be limited to 30 plans per day
    • Most recently in February 2024, city council added an additional $6M dollars to the contract with Michael Baker for staff consulting and professional engineering services in the floodplain management, traffic, storm and utilities/right-of-way sections.

While some progress has been made, we still have a long way to go as seen in the performance metrics below.

Permitting Metrics

As can be seen, the city’s performance falls way short of targets, and this is unacceptable. Speeding up permitting processes remains a top priority of mine, and I look forward to addressing this in my second term. 

In addition, city council has appropriated approximately $15 million for the implementation of HouPermits, a new permitting system to streamline and improve the permitting and inspection process. HouPermits will serve as a one-stop shop for permitting and inspection information. The project is currently wrapping up design. 

At the April 6, 2023, TTI committee meeting, HPC Director Chris Butler presented an update on the department. From 2016 to 2022, HPC generated $1 billion in revenue, sold over 2.7 million permits, completed 5.1 million inspections, and 542,000 project reviews. HPC has attempted to keep up with this activity while losing more than 90 employees in 2023. Staff attrition is due to the better pay and flexible teleworking options private companies and other public agencies can offer. We must re-examine our pay structure to retain and recruit good employees as well significantly shorten the hiring timeframe, which currently averages six months from job posting to start date.