Rep. June S. Speakman, chairwoman of the House commission that has been studying ways to improve housing affordability in Rhode Island, has introduced legislation to enable more Rhode Islanders to develop accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property.
The bill (2023-H 6082), which is scheduled for a hearing before the House Municipal Government and Housing Committee Thursday, is part of the 14-bill housing package announced March 2 by House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi to encourage housing production.
The legislation in the package stems from the work of the House Commission to Study the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, which Representative Speakman has led since its inception in 2021, and another commission studying all aspects of land use and development.
ADUs, sometimes referred to as in-law apartments, 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. The bill was written in collaboration with AARP, for whom increasing production of ADUs have been a primary policy goals for several years.
The bill 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 affordable, and also provide opportunities for homeowners with extra space to generate income that helps them maintain ownership of that property.
“For many people, especially single people and older adults, ADUs provide just enough space and could be a more affordable option than a larger, traditional apartment. For some, they might make it possible to stay in their neighborhood after downsizing from their own home, or they might be an opportunity to live in a neighborhood where apartments are scarce or are otherwise out of their price range,” said Representative Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol). “We need more rental units of all types in our state, and making it easier for homeowners to use their extra space in this manner is an avenue that will help develop some in relatively short order without altering anyone’s neighborhood or requiring new, expensive construction.”
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.
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.
“Our housing crisis is very complex, and we must be creative and identify all the tools we can to create housing that makes the most of our resources. This particular 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 the housing, so it’s in the public’s interest to make it easier,” said Representative Speakman. “This is a step in the right direction toward a goal that is going to require a cooperative effort across the state for years into the future.”
In addition to the ADU bill, Representative Speakman is sponsoring a second bill in the housing package. That bill (2023-H 6088) will extend the life of the special commission she chairs to 2025. Under current law, it is set to expire May 24. That bill is also scheduled for a hearing before the Municipal Government and Housing Committee Thursday.