The average wait for a residential permit is 10 months. The city hopes ‘bots’ will slash that to weeks

To reduce wait times, DPP is deploying a "bot" to automatically check requirements from a checklist.
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 5:50 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2022 at 6:26 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Improvements are in the works for Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting, which is grappling with a backlog of 6,000 residential permit applications.

The average wait time from application to approval for a residential permit is 10 months.

New acting DPP Director Dawn Apuna hopes automation will cut that to a few weeks.

But many in the construction business are doubtful.

Apuna presented her plan to the City Council for overhauling an outdated system and a staff shortage. The problem starts with the prescreening.

“This is a manual process. Currently, the queue or line for this process is about 175 days,” she said.

To reduce wait times, DPP is deploying a “bot” to automatically check requirements from a checklist.

“The bot will be able to shrink down the number of days from 178, to, hopefully less than a week for that phase,” Apuna said.

DPP also launched a new website with detailed instructions to eliminate the back and forth.

“When the design professionals are making their plans, they can look at exactly what we’re looking for and what the bot is looking for,” Apuna said.

Some contractors are skeptical the changes will make a dent.

“I’m just afraid that it’s going to be after the holidays is going to be instead of six months, it’ll be eight months,” said engineer Jeoffrey Cudiamat, owner and CEO of Structural Hawaii.

He says contractors have to deal with multiple agencies that use different systems. He believes having one person at DPP oversee a project from start to finish is more efficient.

“I’m not sure if the bot can do everything that a clerk would be able to do,” he said.

“With pre-screen, if there’s a comment, you get rejected, say you waited in line for five months, if there’s a comment, it gets rejected, and it gets sent to the back of the line.”

A staff shortage doesn’t help. DPP is trying to fill some 36 open positions and training can take 6 months.

“It’s hard to get engineers in there. The pay differential is a lot different than private,” Apuna said.

Lex Allen, owner of Solid Built Construction, says customer service at Honolulu Hale has gotten better.

But he wants more to be done.

“Don’t require a permit for so many projects just because of money, the amount of the project required, but for a more structural substantial reason,” he said.

“Do some serious research, hire a consultant, come up with a plan and get it done.”

Contractors worry the permitting system is so bad that more people are turning to unlicensed contractors to get work done faster. Not only does that hurt legitimate businesses, they say, it can be dangerous for the homeowner and the community.