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E-Permits Streamline Construction and Renovation

Eight Silicon Valley cities participated in the Smart Permit Program begun in 1994 by the Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a public-private, nonprofit regional collaborative. This Web-based initiative has a mission--to enable property owners, contractors, and businesses to:

  • Check the status of their permits online.
  • Submit plans electronically.
  • Apply and pay for permits online.

Each of the pilot cities (Fremont, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Carlos, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale) developed its own Smart Permit system and contracted separately for the support software.
The cities are in different stages of Smart Permit development. Their Web sites illustrate the range of permit information and services available online. For example:

  • The City of San Carlos offers Web-based information on permit status, zoning, and property ownership. Inspectors in the field can use wireless handheld and laptop computers to access information and send back reports.
  • City of Sunnyvale developed an online Geographic Information System (SunGIS) that has the capacity to handle permits, track complaints, schedule inspections, and monitor hearings.
  • City of Palo Alto currently has permit status information available over the Web, and is actively working toward piloting its new Internet-based permitting service.
  • City of Fremont, City of Milpitas, City of Mountain View, and City of San Jose also have Web sites offering online permit information and services.

Communities typically implement Web-based permitting in stages:

  • Phase I focuses on the simplest, most frequently requested permits. During Phase I, cities prepare for Internet permitting by opening one-stop permit processing centers and automating permit systems.
  • Phase II develops remote access, allowing customers to submit applications for "simple" permits (not requiring submittal of detailed plans), and issues permits over the Internet.
  • Phase III offers online permitting for more complex projects with required plan attachments. This phase allows applicants to request inspections online and incorporates multi-agency online review of permits.

According to Joint Venture's Web site, systems like Smart Permits can save developers and contractors time and money. In turn, these savings can help reduce housing costs to homeowners, homebuyers, and renters. For more information, visit Joint Venture's Smart Permit Web site:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has recently published a book describing electronic permitting systems in Silicon Valley and other areas of the country. To learn more about these systems please visit HUD USER's Web site at

Austin's S.M.A.R.T. Housing is Breaking Barriers

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Austin's Safe, Mixed-Income, Accessible, Reasonably-Priced, Transit-Oriented Houses. This initiative not only encourages smart growth, it stimulates development of affordable renter- and owner-occupied housing.

Austin has adopted several regulatory tools to heighten developers' interest in building S.M.A.R.T. Houses:

  • Affordable housing projects can qualify for waivers from local development fees.

  • Affordable housing proposals can receive expedited review for development permits.

  • Recent amendments to Austin's Land Development Code encourage infill development.

Waiving Development Fees Makes Homes More Affordable

To further encourage affordable housing, the city exempts qualifying units from some development fees. In 1998, for example, Austin agreed to waive $1,500 per unit from impact fees developers would normally pay for building permits. To receive the exemptions, builders had to agree to build housing that is sold or rented to families with incomes below 80 percent of the area median income (under $39,900 for a family of four). Builders can pass this $1,500 savings on to the family either by reducing the price of the home or by leveraging with other funds for downpayment assistance.

S.M.A.R.T. Houses Get Permits in Record Time

By expediting approval of a building permit for Riverside Meadows, a new, affordable multifamily apartment building, Austin was able to meet a deadline for critically important financing. As a certified S.M.A.R.T. housing project, Riverside Meadows received building permits in 29 days and qualified for $11.7 million in revenue bonds to finance the project.

Encouraging Infill Enhances Affordability

New infill developments allow communities to use existing infrastructure more efficiently and to provide affordable housing within the city. Infill also reduces pollution and helps cut energy demand by shorting commute times and improving access to existing public transportation. To help fit new development into existing neighborhoods, Austin passed Infill and Redevelopment Amendments to the city's overall development code. Austin requires that any proposed infill development be approved as part of an overall Neighborhood Plan.
Austin's Infill and Redevelopment Amendments consist of the following eight options:

  • Cottage Lot Single family.
  • Urban Home Single Family.
  • Small Lot Amnesty.
  • Secondary Apartment.
  • Residential Infill.
  • Mixed Use Building.
  • Neighborhood Corner Store.
  • Neighborhood Urban Center.

To learn more about the Smart Housing program, go to Austin's Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office Web site or contact Stuart Hersh at this department.

Fair Housing Puts Web Site to Good Use

"Welcome to the Community Choice Web Site," Rochester, New York's online resource for fair housing information. The Web site grew out of Rochester's county-wide Fair Housing Action Plan, winner of HUD's 1999 Blue Ribbon Practices award. Rochester's fair housing plan has become a model for the nation.

Established by the Rochester Public Interest Law Office, the Community Choice Web site promotes plan strategies to overcome barriers to fair housing and increase housing opportunities by engaging more stakeholders in discussions about fair housing, and by educating people about their responsibilities under fair housing laws and the benefits of increasing housing choice.

Educating the Public

The Community Choice Web site educates public- and private-sector audiences about fair housing laws in a number of effective ways. Relevant sections include:

Online Locator for Fair Housing Resources

The Web site provides a comprehensive roster of community fair housing resources:

For more information, visit the Community Choice Web site

Or contact:

Public Interest Law Office of Rochester
80 St. Paul Street, Suite 701
Rochester New York, 14604
(716) 454-4060,


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