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SB2042: Set 60-day deadline for housing permit approval

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Senate Committee on Housing on Jan. 30, 2024.
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Jan. 30, 2024, 1 p.m.
Hawaii State Capitol
Conference Room 225 and Videoconference

To: Senate Committee on Housing
      Sen. Stanley Chang, Chair
      Sen. Troy Hashimoto, Vice-Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns

RE: SB2042 — RELATING TO HOUSING

Comments only

Aloha Chair Chang, Vice-Chair Hashimoto and members of the Committee,

Thank you for considering SB2042, which would impose a “shot clock” that requires the counties to approve within 60 days a building permit for a single-family or multifamily housing project that has been certified by a licensed architect or engineer.

The Grassroof Institute of Hawaii supports this idea, because a “shot clock” as suggested by this bill would help provide certainty to building permit applicants, who currently often must wait months for permits for even just simple home-repair projects.

According to “The Hawai’i Housing Factbook,” produced by the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawai‘i, the median permit processing time between mid-2018 and mid-2023 was 161 days across the state.[1]

Reducing delays for permit approval could also reduce the possibility of corruption. The long wait to obtain a permit creates a situation in which applicants are tempted to offer bribes to get priority processing.[2]

Other states already use such “shot clocks.”

For example, Florida mandated in 2021 that counties either issue single-family home permits within 30 days or incrementally refund the permit fees to the applicants. According to various Florida permitting departments, this law has helped speed up permit approvals and helped meet the state’s demand for housing.[3]

So adopting SB2042 would be a good way to serve the cause of increasing Hawaii’s housing supply — though Grassroot would like to suggest one amendment that would improve it.

That is, basically, that if a county does not approve a building permit within the 60-day window, that permit will be automatically approved. This language could be added to the end of Section 2 of the bill. For example:

If a permit submitted under this section is not approved by the county within sixty days of a complete application being filed, it shall be deemed approved; provided that county approval has not been delayed due to non-compliance of the permit with applicable state or county ordinances. Nothing in this section should be construed to allow any violation of federal, state or county laws or rules.

Such a clause would ensure that county permitting agencies have a clear incentive to review permits before the 60-day period closes.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Ted Kefalas
Director of strategic campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
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[1] Justin Tyndall, Daniela Bond-Smith and Rachel Inafuku, “The Hawai’i Housing Factbook,” Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawai‘i, June 28, 2023.
[2] Christina Jedra, “Some Honolulu Building Permit Applicants Sailed Through Despite Long Waits For Most,” Honolulu Civil Beat, Oct. 18, 2023.
[3] Hayden Dublois, “Fast Track to Success: How Florida Has Streamlined Its Permitting Processes To Cut Red Tape and Expand Housing,” Foundation for Government Accountability, June 15, 2022.

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