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D.C. inspector general to review controversial fast-track permit program

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The Velocity program has made money for the city but vexed some homeowners and lawmakers

Construction near Nationals Park
TJ Brown/Shutterstock

The District’s independent inspector general will examine a controversial program meant to expedite reviews of building permits in the coming months as part of a sweeping “audit and inspection plan” for D.C.’s next fiscal year.

Called Velocity and administered by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the program allows builders to pay up to $75,000 per project for fast-track permit reviews, not including the normal costs of permits. It covers a variety of work ranging from new construction and demolition to interior alterations and plan revisions.

As of August, the program had made the District more than $2 million in fees. But Velocity and its sister program Expedition had also been criticized by homeowners and lawmakers for favoring well-heeled developers who could afford DCRA’s charges. DCRA defended the services as a way to facilitate its overall workload and speed up affordable housing projects.

D.C.’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will begin a review of Velocity in fiscal year 2019, which runs from October through next September, according to a plan the office submitted to the D.C. Council. The plan outlines expected reviews of other city services, among them homelessness programs and contracting by the District’s real estate arm.

OIG says the plan was based on a “comprehensive risk assessment” that weighed feedback from the Council and the mayor’s office, statutory requirements, and other variables. As for Velocity, the office—headed by Daniel W. Lucas—seeks to find out whether the program has detracted from DCRA’s handling of other building plans and permit applications.

“This engagement was identified as a Council concern; for the potential for monetary benefits or funds put to better use within the District; and for vulnerabilities to corruption, fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement,” OIG states. Velocity came up during a hearing on a pending bill that would split DCRA into two separate agencies. OIG says the program “was identified as a symptom of DCRA’s inability to efficiently process permit applications.”

Curbed DC has reached out to DCRA about OIG’s planned review of the Velocity program and will update this post should the agency provide comment. The program quietly kicked off last September and had processed more than 100 projects as of August. DCRA used its existing staff to manage Velocity instead of hiring new employees.

In fiscal year 2019, the inspector general is also planning to review the D.C. Department of General Services’ contracting practices—specifically, increases in the prices of large-scale projects that exceed what lawmakers have approved—and the D.C. Department of Human Services’ homelessness programs. Those programs include emergency shelter, permanent supportive housing, and rapid rehousing subsidies that enable people to rent private units.