Worker shortage delays building projects

Worker shortage delays building projects

Public, private construction employees can't keep up with demand of unprecedented building boom.

Local builders and their government regulators are so busy these days, they are unable to keep up with all the demands on them.

"It's a problem on both sides, and I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better," says Justin Wood, first vice president of Fish Construction NW, a local homebuilder.

The Bureau of Development Services is on track to issue a record level of permits this year. But as construction activity has accelerated in recent years, BDS has been hampered by a shortage of employees. Despite having more employees than ever, dozens of critical positions are currently vacant, including permit processors, plan reviewers, and residential and commercial building inspectors. The same is true in other construction-related city bureaus that must also review and approve permit applications, including the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Portland Water Bureau.

In fact, a majority of the city's permit review teams did not meet their self-imposed goals of holding their first meetings on all projects with developers in June, the most recent month for which such statistics are available. Goals were not completely met in 59 of the 102 categories documented in the report. The number of reviews where the deadlines were missed ranged from just one to 118.

"The bureau has been challenged to meet its service level goals while striving to provide the best customer service," reads a recent BDS overview report.

City leaders have long admitted that BDS is frequently slow in issuing and tracking permits. The city council has funded a Portland Online Permitting System that is currently being designed and implemented in hopes of increasing efficiency. More recently, Mayor Ted Wheeler told the Portland Tribune editorial board on July 13 that he is considering taking over BDS and a number of other construction-related bureaus to make them work more closely together.

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