Amid a housing shortage and reports of building permit and inspection delays from leaders in the construction industry, Santa Fe city officials say the Planning and Land Use Department has significantly increased its capacity over the past six months.
The department’s vacancy rate is just below 20%, Interim Director Jason Kluck tells SFR, down about 5% from a couple weeks ago. (The City of Santa Fe has had trouble hiring across the board.)
Positions in code enforcement and construction inspections have recently been filled, bringing the staffing levels of those divisions up to 95% and 85%, respectively. Salaries for inspectors have risen and the City Council in December approved funding for several staffers.
Still, challenges remain.
Some builders have been waiting several months to get permits, Miles Conway, executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, tells SFR.
“We all know there’s a housing crisis, not only housing but market-rate, and we’re in an incredible construction boom right now,” Conway says. “With all that going on, what we have is—I have a builder right now who’s like, ‘I’ve been waiting for four months to get this permit to build this house and if I don’t get it, I have to lay my guys off because I can’t keep them working on these side projects.’”
Kluck says small projects like solar installations are generally processed in two to three weeks and a few multifamily housing projects that he’s tracked have been permitted in six weeks, but he concedes that the department still has work to do.
“Even with all of this capacity that we’re building, this is really just to get back to baseline,” Kluck says. “Land Use needs to continue to grow and develop over the years to meet this demand…but we’re doing way better than we were a year and a half, two years ago.”
One major challenge in hiring, Kluck says, is that qualified inspectors come with a specialized skill set that’s somewhat difficult to find, and many who are qualified are opting to work in the private sector, with which the city has a hard time competing.
City councilors approved about $231,000 last month to fund 15% salary increases for inspectors, bringing most within the range of $25 to $27 an hour. Third party inspectors, on the other hand, charge around $75 an hour, according to Kluck, who writes in an email to SFR that they “can and need to charge more to cover profit, overhead, personal taxes” and more.
Kluck says the department plans to ask for further salary increases.
The money approved by the City Council also funded an assistant director, senior planner and engineer—positions which have yet to be filled.
Looking forward, Conway worries about whether the department will be ready to handle demand that’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
“We know that Santa Fe is on the precipice of some major developments—Midtown, Las Estrellas,” Conway says. “That’s what we need to be preparing for today so that it doesn’t become the crisis of tomorrow.”