The Villas on Sixth in Austin, Texas, was designed to be in compliance with Austin’s S.M.A.R.T. Housing Policy Initiative, a municipal program that uses expedited review and fee waivers to stimulate the production of affordable homes. Residences built under this program are intended to be safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced and transit-oriented (hence the S.M.A.R.T. acronym), and must also meet Austin’s “green building” standards. The Villas on Sixth development has 160 rental units, with 85 percent affordable to households with 40 to 50 percent AMI. Fifteen percent of units are market-rate.
The Villas on Sixth are sited less than two miles from the state capitol, on an abandoned parcel of land that had once been occupied by a railroad roundhouse. The land, which is leased on a long-term basis to the developer and property manager, is owned by the Austin Housing Finance Corporation and as a result receives an exemption from property taxes. Designed to be in compliance with Austin’s S.M.A.R.T. Housing Policy Initiative, developers benefited from an expedited permitting process and other program advantages.
Developers of projects meeting S.M.A.R.T. Housing certification standards receive an expedited review that averages about half the time of conventional projects. They also may receive waivers of the city’s capital recovery fee, development review and inspection fee and certain construction inspection fees. Typical cost savings for homes produced under the program are $600 per unit for multifamily homes and $2,000 per single-family home from fee waivers, as well as reduced carrying costs from the expedited review process.
King County, Wash.
Permit applicants in King County, Wash., benefit from the Preferred Consultant Program, an early review process administered by the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review that makes experts available to help expedite the residential permitting process.
The program is geared primarily at smaller “mom and pop” developers, and provides applicants with a list of pre-approved consultants who can assist in the completion of permit applications. Consultants review applications and help ensure that projects meet an array of criteria before submission to the department.
While standard consulting fees still apply, applicants who use the program may actually save money by reducing the need for revisions and the length of time until an approval is granted. This system appears to result in a win-win-win situation: applicants benefit from higher initial approval rates, department staff receive higher-quality applications that they can process more quickly and consultants have the opportunity to publicize their services.