Honolulu Council approves self-certification for permits
from Grassroot Institute
In testimony before the Council, the Grassroot Institute noted safeguards that could help ensure all buildings meet code
The Honolulu City Council unanimously approved a bill last week supported by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii that could help reduce Oahu’s notorious permitting backlog.
If approved by Mayor Rick Blangiardi, Bill 6 will allow licensed private sector architects to approve building permits for state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands projects, certain affordable housing projects and leased or rented commercial properties.
Architects who participate in the “self-certification” program would have to meet a variety of requirements, including a minimum level of insurance coverage.
The Grassroot Institute testified that several mainland cities have used self-certification for building permits for years.
New York City, for example, has allowed private architects to approve building permits since the 1990s, and today the average wait time for a building permit in that city is about 18 days — compared to several months in Honolulu. Chicago and Phoenix also allow self-certification.
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Self-certification has good track record in other cities
from Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, November 1, 2023
The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Honolulu City and County Council on Nov. 1, 2023.
Nov. 1, 2023, 10 a.m.
Honolulu City and County Council
Comments on Bill 6 (2023), CD1
Aloha Chair Waters, Vice-Chair Kiaʻāina and other Councilmembers,
Thank you for considering Bill 6 (2023), CD1, which would allow building applications to be reviewed by professionals qualified to self-certify that the plans and other data in the applications are in compliance with all applicable laws.
Expanding the use of self-certification could meaningfully slash Honolulu’s permitting backlog, which now stands at about six months.
Under a self-certification regime, professionals such as architects, engineers and other experts designated by the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting could attest that their building plans comply with all applicable building codes and regulations and automatically receive a permit without going through a DPP or third-party review.
Other municipalities across the country use both of these mechanisms to minimize permitting delays. For example, Johns Creek, Georgia, a town of about 80,000, contracts with a private entity to review its most complicated permits, such as for hospitals, while allowing its civil servants to review standard permits, such as for homes. This helps the city avoid permitting backlogs. In fact, permits in Johns Creek are often issued within five to 10 days after they are applied for.
Self-certification has also worked in other cities. For example, New York City has employed a self-certification process for decades. This has helped speed up the building process. In fiscal 2023, New Yorkers could expect their building permits to be approved in about 18 days.
The city has also implemented several safeguards to help ensure that all buildings meet code. According to the 2023 New York City Mayor’s Management Report, city auditors randomly review roughly 20% of self-certified permits to deter cheating.
Likewise, Chicago has used a self-certification program with success. Many architects can self-certify building plans and receive a permit within 10 days.
Lest anyone fear that self-certification could lead to unsafe buildings, many architects and engineers would likely ask third-party reviewers to double-check their findings for more complicated projects. Building code inspectors would also still perform routine inspections on the buildings during their construction, and again upon their completion.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
 Ian Bauer, “City director reports drop in Honolulu building permit backlog,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, July 21, 2023.
 Joe Kent, “Testimony: Hawaii County could use ‘Konno’ exceptions to address permit backlog,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Nov. 3, 2022.
 “Mayor’s Management Report,” New York City, September 2023, p. 328.
 “Self-Certification Permit Program,” City of Chicago, Feb. 25, 2022.