Market Update: Denver - Aug 2023
By Julia McGhee
Since 2010, Denver has been the second-fastest-growing population in the country, after Austin, Texas. Although there are some signs that the construction boom in Denver is slowing down since its peak in 2021, it doesn’t feel that way walking around the city, surrounded by cranes and coming soon signs. The population has grown by over half a million since 2010, so the demand for residential and commercial properties is still catching up.
The Permitting Backlog Conundrum
As the construction frenzy intensifies, Denver has been grappling with a significant challenge for several years: permitting backlogs. These backlogs occur when the demand for construction permits surpasses the capacity of local agencies to process them in a timely manner. The result is delays, frustration, increased costs, and, in some cases, stunted economic growth. Although some progress has been made, the western United States are facing an average construction backlog of 8.4 months.
Permit backlogs can have a major impact on the city, from construction delays to increased housing costs. With residential permits having some of the longest review times, Denver’s much needed housing supply is further squeezed. The length of the permit approval time directly correlates to housing costs, so Denver has seen consistently high prices throughout the pandemic and still today.
Major commercial permit timelines are inching much closer to the target review time of four weeks, with the current average floating around 4.7 weeks. Still, every day of delays can add up to thousands of dollars for the developers and project teams.
City of Denver Efforts
The Denver Community Planning and Development (CPD) team has had some success and seen a decline in review times after a recent sprint to increase staff and improve their efficiency. So far, review times on permits have been cut nearly in half since the fall of 2022, but there is a lot of work to be done.
Local authorities and stakeholders are actively addressing the construction permitting backlog challenge:
- Staff Expansion: Efforts to recruit and train additional staff can help reduce processing times and alleviate backlogs.
- Process Streamlining: Simplifying and digitizing the permitting process can expedite approvals, reducing bottlenecks and delays.
- Increased Transparency: Enhancing communication with applicants about the status of their permits and providing estimated processing times can foster better expectations and understanding.
- Partnerships and Collaboration: Collaborative efforts between public and private sectors can lead to innovative solutions, sharing expertise to improve the permitting process.
Denver's construction permitting and backlog challenges, while complex, are not insurmountable. As the city continues to thrive and expand, it must proactively address these issues to ensure that growth remains sustainable and accessible for all stakeholders. By embracing technological advancements, increasing staffing resources, and streamlining processes, Denver can navigate the construction permitting maze, mitigate backlogs, and pave the way for a more efficient and prosperous future.