City Council Takes On Building Permit Backlog

Nov 16, 2018

Home construction in Hawaii Kai circa 1973. The average approval time for a residential building permit has jumped to almost 120 days in 2018. Many residents report delays of 6 months or more.
Credit The U.S. National Archives / Flickr

The Honolulu City Council has given final approval to a bill that aims to streamline the process for getting a building permit. Lengthy delays in issuing permits have been frustrating builders and homeowners alike.

Members of Oahu’s residential construction industry have been lobbying the Council to address the months-long wait for permits they say is costing them millions of dollars. In an otherwise booming local economy, some contractors have been reducing hours or laying off workers entirely.

Surrounded by an audience packed with contractors and trade workers, City Councilmembers unanimously passed Bill 64 on Wednesday.  

If signed by the Mayor, the new law would require the Honolulu Department of Permitting and Planning to complete the permit process for one and two-family homes in 60 days or less.  

The people who issue the permits were less enthused about this plan. Kathy Sokugawa, Acting Director of the Department of Permitting and Planning, opposed the measure saying that it would force the DPP to to rush safety inspections. 

Staffing has been a challenge for the DPP. High employee turnover and problems attracting new workers have contributed to the permit backlog. So far in 2018, it has taken an average of 118 days to process a residential building permit. That is compared to just over 60 days in 2013. Many builders and home owners claim to have waited months longer, some as high as 11 months.

One unexpected development of the legislation was that it set commercial and residential builders against each other another. Some members of the commercial building industry were concerned that the 60-day time limit for residential permits would prioritize those projects over their own.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell now has 10 days to review the bill and decide whether he will sign it or exercise his veto power. Bill 64 passed the 9-member council unanimously. Overriding a mayoral veto requires 6 votes.