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City, Quicken Loans fund look to simplify process for new businesses in Detroit

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Red tape at city hall has been a long-running complaint for those trying to get permits and inspections

A hallway with colored lines painted on the floor. Colors match signs on the walls.
The hallway outside BSEED’s offices has new wayfinding signage.
City of Detroit

Talk to business owners and they’ll tell you about the roadblocks to opening up shop in Detroit: unnecessary red tape, multiple visits to city hall, unclear instructions from officials.

A collaboration between the city of Detroit’s Building Safety, Engineering & Environmental Department (BSEED) and the Quicken Loans Community Fund hopes to simplify the permitting and inspection process to make it easier to open a business here.

A number of changes were recently implemented to reduce confusion and simplify the process. At BSEED’s offices, for example, new wayfinding signage was installed outside the elevator to make navigation clear.

Quicken developed a “Quick Start Permitting Guide” that provides step-by-step instructions for going through the various stages of opening a business and whether or not they can be accomplished in-person or online. Other forms were redesigned and simplified—where once owners had to fill out their address 70 times, now it only needs to be done three times.

Perhaps most importantly, the city has brought many of these functions online through its new “eLAPS” or Electronic Licenses and Permits system. The platform will allow both BSEED and businesses to access and receive information, like inspection results, quickly. It should also save countless man hours for the city.

“Our mission is to provide services in a way that makes it easy for people who want to improve their property or open a business in Detroit,” BSEED director David Bell said in a release. “We have already received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from new and returning customers alike.”

One developer told Crain’s Detroit Business that she used to expect six months for the city to approve a building permit. Now that number is closer to three months and sometimes less.

The city says that the volume of new businesses in Detroit necessitated the change—BSEED has issued more than 22,000 business licenses and 3,000 commercial building permits since 2015.

This is one of a number of technological upgrades and tools the city has implemented in recent years, including a new transit payment system and app, online data portal, a mobile app for reporting infrastructure issues, and more.

The Quicken Loans fund contributed $90,000 in funding and in-kind services to the project.