Building Permits in Rhode Island: We’ll Slow You Down Because We Can

Benjamin Gedan has an article from yesterday’s Projo describing the long wait times involved in getting a building permit approved in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Builder’s Association believes that the current delays are neither reasonable nor legal…

In an attempt to speed up the permitting process, the association has sued nine cities and towns, arguing that the glacial pace of municipal decision-making violates state law and deprives landowners of their property rights. The defendants include Warwick, Cranston, Lincoln, West Warwick, North Kingstown, Cumberland, Newport, North Providence and Woonsocket….
The lawsuit cites permit applications that were under review for as long as 19 months. The result, the association says, has been a steady decline in development throughout the state.
From 1999 to 2006, the number of building permits issued statewide declined by nearly 40 percent, from 2,600 to 1,600, according to the association. Though the period saw a weakened housing market, the number of permits dropped even in times of strong housing demand.
Two questions arise from this story…
  1. I’ve seen affordable housing programs touted as big progress because they will add about 500 new units to the state housing pool. Given the numbers discussed in Gedan’s article, wouldn’t streamlining the permitting process also be an easy (and maybe even better) way to help relieve the housing crunch, if around 1,000 units per year are being lost to permitting delays? (Or is there perhaps an element of snob-zoning involved in the decline in permits?)
  2. Is there any reason not to look at these permitting delays as an indicator that Rhode Island has developed a public service culture that is overtly hostile to individual initiative, i.e. activities not fully controlled by Rhode Island officials are not activities regarded by Rhode Island officials as important.

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