House OKs Speakman bill to boost ADU development

Legislation is part of House effort to address housing crisis

 

STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. June S. Speakman, chairwoman of the House Commission on Housing Affordability, to boost housing production by helping Rhode Islanders to develop accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property.

The legislation, which now goes to the Senate, has been identified by as a high priority this year for House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi in the House’s effort to address the state’s housing crisis. Speaker Shekarchi is the bill’s top cosponsor.

ADUs, sometimes referred to as in-law apartments or granny flats, are accessories to existing housing, created 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 balance the need to create more housing while preserving the character of residential neighborhoods. Seniors, especially, have taken to ADUs as a way to downsize while continuing to live independently in the community they love. The bill was written in collaboration with AARP, for whom increasing production of ADUs has been a primary policy goal for several years.

The bill (2024-H 7062) would provide homeowners the right to develop an ADU within the existing footprint of their structures or on any lot larger than 20,000 square feet, provided that the design satisfies building code, size limits and infrastructure requirements.

The purpose of the bill is to encourage the development of rental units that are likely to be more affordable than many other apartments, and also to provide opportunities for homeowners with extra space to generate income that helps them maintain ownership of that property.

“One of the drivers of our housing crisis is the low construction rate in Rhode Island. Our state has the lowest per-capita construction rate in the whole country. We need to be creative and be willing to allow construction of housing, particularly affordable, moderate and small units like ADUs,” said Chairwoman Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol). “ADUs are an excellent option because they are generally affordable to build and to rent. Because they are small and often can be created without even altering the footprint of the existing building, they don’t change the character of their neighborhood. They are mutually beneficial to the renter and the homeowner, who can use the rental income to make their own homeownership more affordable. ADUs can allow seniors to age in place, close to their families. We should be encouraging development of ADUs, because they offer another housing option for Rhode Islanders and a relatively simple way to make more units available in the near term and help ease the housing crunch in Rhode Island.”

To ensure that the bill achieves its goal of housing Rhode Islanders, the legislation prohibits ADUs constructed under this provision from being used as short-term rentals, and streamlines the permitting process.

“Every Rhode Islander needs a safe home that they can afford, and the only way we are going to make that happen is to build more homes,” she said. “This bill removes some of the obstacles to building ADUs while respecting municipal land use policies. Our commission learned that there are many people in Rhode Island who already have space that they’d like to use in this way, but our laws make it complicated. We desperately need housing, so it’s in the public’s interest to make it easier.”

Representative Speakman said the legislation is a small but important part of the much broader effort that Rhode Island must adopt to encourage the development of affordable housing. She has led the Affordable Housing Commission since its inception in 2021, helping to achieve the passage of 17 bills to help address elements of the housing crisis over the previous two legislative sessions.

Along with AARP, the bill has the support of numerous organizations and agencies, including the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, Rhode Island Housing, the American Planning Association Rhode Island Division, Grow Smart RI and Housing Network RI.

In addition to Speaker Shekarchi, the bill has many cosponsors, including House Majority Leader  Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), Rep. Megan L. Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Richmond, Hopkinton), Rep. Brianna E. Henries (D-Dist. 64, East Providence, Pawtucket), Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Warren), Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), Rep. Michelle E. McGaw (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton) and Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown).

 

 

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