Phil Mendelson

DC's $50K Building Permit Fast Lane Is Angering Homeowners Who Want Basic Repairs

What to Know

  • The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs began offering a fast track program for building permits in September.
  • Fees for fast tracking a permit begin at $5,000 and can be as high as $50,000.
  • Residents are complaining of long wait times to get permits through the agency.

D.C. homeowners and some D.C. Council members are pushing back against a government program that promises to slash waiting times for building permits from 30 days to as little as one day — for a fee that can cost $50,000.

Some call it a pay-to-play system that slows residents trying to repair their homes.

Brianne Ryback is one of those homeowners. The foundation on her Northeast D.C. home is crumbling. She says the contractor she hired told her it’s a problem he worked on many times.

But, she says when he went to get the permit, he came back scratching his head about a new D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs program called Velocity.

It promises to speed up the permitting process for a fee: $50,000 for clients whose building plans are complete and ready for submission.

Another cheaper option called Expedition Service charges $5,000 for the first plan review session and $2,500 for additional sessions.

Those figures don’t include the standard permit fees, which vary by project.

Residents Complain of Long Wait Times

"I read the whole PDF on the program, and I was like, this doesn’t speak to residents,” Ryback said. “Residents can’t afford $25,000 just to get a permit in a day or two, and so now we have to wait.”

The wait for a permit should not exceed 30 days, according to DCRA policy. Melinda Bolling, the director of DCRA, says that the fast track programs should cut wait times for all residents.

“Velocity and expedition helps everyone because it gets the big projects out of the queue, so that smaller projects can be done on a quicker time frame,” Bolling said.

But some members of the D.C. council say wait times aren’t in line with expectations.

Councilmember Brianne Nadeau says her constituents often seek help from her office when the agency moves slowly.

“We have cases coming to my office on a regular basis where either it’s taking forever to hear back,” Nadeau said at a hearing in March. “They have to come to us in order to get an answer and even when we are reaching out it takes awhile to get an answer on cases that don’t seem that complicated.”

“The problem is that DCRA is not processing permit applications promptly and that disfavors everybody. It’s particularly hard on ordinary residents, because they want to get their house fixed,” the council’s chairman, Phil Mendelson, said.

Bolling told News4’s Mark Segraves that talk of months-long delays for those who can’t afford to fast track are “rumors.”

In her Council testimony, the DCRA Director indicated business is brisk for the fast track programs, that they were booked up for all of March.

The program, which began as an emergency rule in September 2017, was slated to expire in January 2018. Mendelson pointed this out in the March hearing. Bolling said the program should be extended.

Complaints of lengthy waits for permits, among other issues including food truck parking regulation and the agency's slow response to a growing number of residents complaining they don't have heat, come amid talk of reorganization.

"After a year of oversight hearings, it has become abundantly clear that DCRA is an agency in need of major change," D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said in a statement Jan. 23. "DCRA needs to do a better job – for both residents and businesses. I believe breaking up and reorganizing the agency is the best way."

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