Sen. Gu’s ADU bill to be
heard in Senate housing committee
STATE HOUSE – The Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government will hear a bill on Thursday from Sen. Victoria Gu that would enable more homeowners to utilize Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).
“If you have roots here, you should be able to afford to stay here, but that’s getting harder and harder for many families,” said Senator Gu (D-Dist. 38, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown). “ADUs offer the ‘missing middle’: housing that is smaller, more affordable and smartly repurposes our existing buildings and garages. Homeowners can be a part of the solution to the housing crisis by creating or converting a garage, basement or shed into an ADU and offering it as a long-term rental. Then they have the benefit of receiving some additional income or housing a loved one. It’s a win-win.”
ADUs are accessories to existing housing, either as a conversion of part of a house (such as a walkout basement), an attachment to a house or a smaller, detached dwelling. They have become increasingly popular around the country in recent years as states and municipalities struggle to balance the needs of expanding the housing stock while preserving the feel of residential neighborhoods. Seniors, especially, have taken to ADUs as a way to downsize while staying in the community they love.
Right now, most towns and cities in Rhode Island, including Westerly and Charlestown, allow ADUs if a family member is going to live in it. South Kingstown already allows ADUs for family members or rentals. Current state law also allows an ADU for anyone to live in if the lot is larger than 20,000 square feet (approximately half an acre) and the ADU is a conversion of a pre-existing structure.
“We’re building an ADU for my son right now, which is a great option for our family,” said Ted Rice, who lives in Westerly. “But if he were to move out, under current law, we won’t be able to rent it. So we’ll have a dwelling that no one’s allowed to live in. With so many people looking for long-term rentals, that just doesn’t make sense.”
Senator Gu's bill (2023-S 1006) would allow homeowners to convert a part of their existing house or another pre-existing structure, like a garage, into an ADU if the lot is smaller than 20,000 square feet. If the lot is larger than 20,000 feet, the homeowner would be allowed to build a small, detached structure up to 900 square feet (less than 5% of the lot size). Compared to a basement or attic, this structure will be much more accessible to seniors. All ADUs must satisfy building code, DEM and CRMC regulations such as those surrounding septic systems, and zoning regulations such as setbacks. For ADU’s allowed under this bill, either the primary dwelling or the ADU must be owner-occupied. The ADU could not be used for short-term rentals.
Advocates hope the bill will increase the availability of housing that families can afford. California implemented similar rules in 2017 and ADU permitting has since increased almost fivefold, providing tens of thousands of housing units.
A similar bill (2023-H 6082Aaa), introduced by Rep. June Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), passed the House on May 16.
Catherine Taylor, AARP Rhode Island state director, called the ADU bill her organization’s “top priority.”
“ADUs allow older adults to remain in the communities they love, build in support from family and caregivers or supplement their fixed incomes,” Taylor said. “Let’s get this done.”