Seven Steps to Accelerate Building Permits in Canadian Municipalities

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There has been pressure for Canadian municipalities to re-evaluate land use and permitting policies to address affordability and availability of housing for the better part of a decade. The Fraser Institute’s 2016 The Impact of Land-Use Regulation on Housing Supply in Canada set the stage when it noted:

“As Canadians continue to converge on urban centres and concerns about the affordability of housing grow, it is crucial to understand why the country’s major housing markets have seen such dramatic growth in prices. This study presents evidence that the regulation of residential development restricts the housing supply, encouraging the growth of prices and distorting local economies.”

The situation has only gotten worse as housing prices have risen dramatically in key markets. COVID-19 and the rapid shift to hybrid work took what was already a significant problem and tipped the market over the edge. The combination of slowed pace of development and inflation culminated in an affordability crisis. The OECD’s 2021 report Improving the Well-being of Canadians said, “Canada’s major social inclusiveness challenges with regard to housing are: first, poor affordability mainly among lower-income groups, especially in major cities.”

That call has not gone unheard. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland declared:

“Canada does not have enough homes. We need more of them, fast. Over the next ten years we will double the number of homes we build. This must become a great national effort, and it will demand a new spirit of collaboration – provinces and territories; cities and towns; the private sector and non-profits all working together with us to build the homes that Canadians need.”

The 2022 federal budget’s funding for the National Housing Strategy directly addresses these challenges. The $4 billion earmarked in the new Housing Accelerator Fund includes up-front funding for planning and delivery processes, which is a windfall for Canadians and the municipalities they live in. Rapid policy change is the inevitable result. IT leaders need to be ready to implement those changes just as quickly. Make sure you have the key elements for success in place.

Define Permitting Product and Service Ownership

Rapid change in permitting practices will require coordination of the delivery of products and services. Our research shows that dedicated product ownership is a key to success in digital service delivery, yet many Canadian municipalities have yet to clarify these roles. Now is the time for IT leaders to identify potential candidates and work with them to define product owner roles and responsibilities that will work in the context of their municipality.

(Re)Define Your Digital Permitting Strategy

The prospect of significant policy changes means your digital strategy for permitting needs to be revisited, at the very least, and potentially restarted. For organizations that have yet to define a digital strategy it also provides the opportunity to get started on a focused topic that has the attention of key stakeholders in the municipality, industry, and community thanks to the need to unlock the federal funding. This won’t eliminate the politics from the process of defining new policies and standards, but it does ensure everyone will share an appreciation of the key principles and goals that underlie accelerated permitting.

Assess Your Existing Permitting Software

Your existing permitting solutions may already be well positioned to accelerate permitting. The potential for change is so great that you need to be confident that is the case. Given the important position of permitting in Municipal ERP, you need to be sure that supporting systems and processes are healthy as well. Now is the time to evaluate the health of your ERP portfolio and prioritize optimization of permitting-related functions. You can also benchmark your existing permitting solutions against the market by contributing your feedback to SoftwareReviews' License and Permit Management category.

Prepare to Select a New Permitting Solution

The need for rapid change means that municipalities must prepare to accelerate their procurement processes to facilitate a potential software acquisition and implementation. IT and vendor management leaders should collaborate to review their existing practices and look for opportunities to introduce best practices to reduce the time required to acquire software. You can also get an overview of the current state of the market from Info-Tech’s Permitting Vendor Landscape, which can be downloaded from this page.

Ensure You’re Ready for an Implementation Partner

Municipalities often rely on implementation partners to implement new solutions. Our research shows the partner plays a more significant role in the outcome than the software itself. Selecting the right partner begins with a rigorous self-assessment of your own capabilities, and this is an exercise you can begin immediately so that you are prepared for the change.

Identify Permit Optimization and Automation Opportunities

There are an increasing number of options to introduce automation to optimize existing processes that may complement or serve rather than replace a core system like permitting. Process optimization and automation can also be implemented in advance of policy changes to remediate existing challenges or inefficiencies in the process and facilitate future change. A dynamic approach to process optimization and automation also needs to be supported by Agile enterprise architecture practices. This ensures changes integrate seamlessly into the organization.

Prepare Your Permitting Roadmap

A change in permitting policy and practices requires a plan to deliver on your digital product vision. Product and service owners need to build a robust backlog and roadmap for delivery and drive effective release management focused on accelerating the submission, review, and approval of permits. The potential for significant capital expenditure in a dynamic project also calls for rigorous capital management. Don’t forget to ensure effective project management office support for your product and service owners as the work progresses.

Our Take

The Government of Canada’s commitment to support municipalities in accelerating the approval and development of new housing is an opportunity for municipalities to the address inefficiencies, process debt, and technical debt that slow down permitting.


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