Portland's Bureau of Development Services (BDS) is currently missing a quarter of its staff, and it could be impacting the city's building inspection and planning process.
BDS, which oversees land use review, permits for construction projects, and inspections, is budgeted to have nearly 400 staffers.
“We have almost 100 vacancies, mostly in inspections and plan review,” says BDS spokesperson Thomas Ngo.
“There’s truth to the fact that we’re having trouble hiring folks. That’s across the board, throughout the [construction] industry,” Ngo says.
State employees point to the economic crash in 2008 as the cause of the tight labor market in construction. At the depth of the Great Recession, Oregon lost nearly 29,000 construction jobs, according to Stephen Simms, an administrator for the Oregon Apprenticeship and Training Division. Now that the construction industry is booming again, BDS is competing with private developers for talent in a labor market short of qualified workers. The lack of staffing combined with an increased workload has slowed BDS's permitting process down significantly.
Developers have long bemoaned the tedious permitting process in Portland for adding an element of uncertainty to their projects. Tom Brenneke, the president of Guardian Real Estate Services, says the permitting process can take nine months or more for larger projects.
Dan Drinkward, the Vice President of Hoffman Construction, says peer cities like Seattle have a much shorter review process by comparison. To shorten this timeline in Portland, he says, “You could streamline the design review process, you could add more staff at BDS, or hire out some of that work."
But with nearly 100 unfilled positions at BDS, it will take some time to speed up the permitting process. But the jobs available at BDS are lucrative ones: Building inspectors and plan examiners make between $35 and $41 an hour.
Ngo adds that BDS is working with Portland Community College and Chemeketa Community College to draw in new talent, but notes that competing with demand in the private sector makes things challenging. “People who can go to the private sector and make more hourly," he says. "There’s an appeal to that.”