The cash-strapped Department of Buildings is looking for new revenue and new staffing solutions to remedy a backlog of inspections applications as a result of the city’s construction boom.
Because of a high demand for commercial office space, pre-K buildings and affordable housing, the DOB is looking for new ways to increase productivity and access new revenue.
Among the solutions being considered is an idea to charge fees to developers seeking advice on how to get a building project up to code, according to Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler. Chandler spoke to a sold out room full of development industry members on Wednesday morning at the Yale Club at an event hosted by Crain’s.
Developers and inspectors alike have frustrations with the permit application process. Developers lament the slow bureaucracies and the tech glitches on the NYC Development HUB site, where they can submit applications and permit renewals. The Department of Buildings decries the ill prepared proposals it receives for permits and a recent trend of receiving “preconsiderations,” or preliminary proposals.
“If it’s a three-page single spaced narrative of what you want to do, we may ask for a little bit more,” Chandler said, adding that there has been an uptick in “preconsideration” proposals resulting in lengthier exchanges between the DOB and developers before they’re approved or denied by the department. This has long been the status quo for the department but now, more than ever, they require more efficiency. “It has a trickle down effect to straining the operations role,” he said.
The “fees” proposed by Chandler would pay for advice from the DOB and would be in addition to existing fees. This runs the risk of transforming the department into a consultant, a moderator for the event where Chandler spoke, Crain’s Senior Reporter Dan Geiger, pointed out.
“If someone is paying you for advice, do you see that as a conflict of interest?” Geiger asked the commissioner.
“I never thought once that it was a conflict of interest,” Chandler responded. “We say no to applications everyday.”
In addition to the fees, Chandler proposed after hours inspections as a potential other source of revenue for the hamstrung department. As it stands, the department inspects buildings during weekdays. Chandler proposes providing this service on weeknights and weekends as well.
Staffing is still an issue for DOB, however, which could pose a problem for overtime work for after hours inspections. Chandler plans to hire 100 more DOB staffers over the next year, increasing the staff from 1,100 employees to 1,200. Chandler, himself, wasn’t appointed until 7 months into de Blasio’s term and admits that he is still playing catch up with staffing the department.
“Combined with the fact that there’s an uptick in the industry…we’ve spent the last few months trying to restaff. We’re looking for it all the time,” said Chandler.