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Bay Area tech company rolls out software to help cities approve housing faster [The Mercury News :: BC-REAL-CALIF-HOUSING-SOFTWARE:SJ]

SAN JOSE, Calif. - As communities throughout the Bay Area struggle to house their booming populations, a local company is introducing software it says may help cities build homes faster.

San Ramon-based Accela this week launched two cloud-based applications to streamline and speed up the permitting process, which in many cities often gets bogged down with delays. That can help developers break ground sooner on the housing the Bay Area so desperately needs, said Accela's executive chairman, Mark Jung.

"You can do what you need to do faster, which means you can process more ... applications more quickly in a shorter amount of time," Jung said.

Developers often complain about the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through to get the city permits necessary to start construction on new residential developments. A recent report by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, blamed lengthy and complex city permitting processes as a prime contributor to rising construction costs in San Francisco.

"There was only one factor on which all interviewees and focus group participants agreed: the most significant and pointless factor driving up construction costs was the length of time it takes for a project to get through the city permitting and development processes," the researchers wrote.

Developers surveyed reported that building codes or plans change in the middle of the process, additional obstacles seem to pop up at random, projects are subject to a shifting interpretation of existing building codes, and there is a lack of communication between the involved city agencies.

Accela hopes to help change that with its Civic Application for Planning and its Civic Application for Building. Both bring the permit application and approval process online, allowing the developer and city officials to track a building's status in real time. Developers and city staff are able to communicate online, instead of playing phone tag, Accela said, and developers are notified instantly if they must revise their applications or provide more information - all of which help reduce delays. The process also helps city officials maintain a big-picture view of their pipeline, see which projects are about to become overdue, and prioritize their workload accordingly.

The result is a faster turnaround, Jung said.

"I've seen a permit process go from multiple months to two weeks," he said in an interview.

Accela has previously introduced cloud-based software applications cities can use to regulate cannabis sales and to register short-term rental properties.


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