House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi today announced a 14-bill package of legislation to address Rhode Island’s housing crisis.
The bills being introduced today build upon housing packages that Speaker Shekarchi shepherded into law each of the last two years sessions by continuing his efforts to streamline housing development while increasing production.
“Real change is never easy, but these bills will help to create more affordable housing that is so desperately needed in Rhode Island,” said Speaker Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick). “We are making meaningful progress. The General Assembly has already passed 17 pieces of housing legislation since I became Speaker, and today my colleagues and I are announcing 14 more housing bills. Increasing housing production is a top priority for the House.
“Nothing in this package forces communities to build more affordable housing, and none of the legislation circumvents local decision-making. My goal is that, by making the development process simpler, faster, and more predictable, we’re not only expediting work already in the pipeline, but also incentivizing more private developers to invest in Rhode Island.”
Speaker Shekarchi was joined by Rep. June S. Speakman, chair of the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act; Thomas E. Deller, chair of the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Entire Area of Land Use, Preservation, Development, Housing, Environment and Regulation; members of both commissions; legislators; housing advocates and developers.
“I am very excited to extend the life of the Commission to Study the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act. Since its inception, substantive legislation has been developed as a result of the testimony and discussions that arose during commission meetings,” said Rep. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol). “However, we still have more work to do. With a new state Department of Housing – and the resulting broader capacity to collect and analyze housing data – we can continue to streamline development processes, broaden what can be built and where, and support municipalities in achieving their housing goals.”
“In this legislation there are opportunities to eliminate bureaucracy in the front-end permitting process – and cutting red tape is always good for productivity,” said House Minority Leader Michael W. Chippendale (R-Dist. 40, Foster, Glocester, Coventry). “Now, we need to compliment these efforts by listening to the various challenges each of our municipalities face, and responding to those needs with equal dedication, support and resources.”
The legislation stems from testimony and discussions of both commissions, which have been meeting regularly since July 2022 to address ways Rhode Island can meet its affordable housing needs in a manner that is sustainable and equitable.
“A planner is a change-maker and needs to look to the future. With this legislation, we are addressing some of Rhode Island’s current development needs while looking ahead. I am pleased with the creative recommendations the Land Use Commission has put together, but this important work is not done,” said Thomas E. Deller, Central Falls Planning Director. “I am very excited that Speaker Shekarchi intends to extend the timeline for our commission to continue studying the areas under our charge. I look forward to the coming two years, as well as furthering our work to modernize the development process and make it more efficient.”
“The Housing Network of Rhode Island and its member organizations greatly appreciate Speaker Shekarchi’s steadfast leadership and focus on housing as a top legislative priority in the General Assembly this session,” said Melina Lodge, Executive Director, Housing Network of Rhode Island/Community Housing Land Trust of RI. “The package of housing bills presented today directly responds to a number of the barriers that have made housing development challenging, time consuming and subsequently, expensive in our state. Our inability to effectively meet the demand for housing has negatively impacted countless Rhode Island households and these bills represent a positive step forward in alleviating our state’s housing crisis.”
“We applaud and support the housing bills being introduced today by the Speaker. His leadership and the commitment is critical to meet the big challenge of equitably increasing access to housing for many Rhode Islanders. The Rhode Island Foundation is committed to continuing to work with all stakeholders to further develop bold and innovative solutions in a timely fashion,” said Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.
“We thank Speaker Shekarchi for his leadership and bold vision regarding housing issues in our state,” said Jennifer Hawkins, Executive Director of ONE Neighborhood Builders. “I believe in focusing on results rather than rhetoric. This package of legislation will help move the needle forward on Rhode Island’s housing crisis and will have a meaningful and positive impact for Rhode Islanders and their families. We look forward to digging into the specifics of the package and to working with the General Assembly to prioritize housing once again.”
Here are the bills introduced today:
- Sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi, this bill would amend Rhode Island’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Act. It would streamline the process of permitting from three steps to two steps, not including pre-application, to follow the purpose of the comprehensive permit process, and sets forth necessary submission items at each stage of the permitting process. The legislation retains current standards, but provides greater clarity for review of approvals and denials to make clearer standards for the review of applications.
- Legislation sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) would amend the subdivision and land development permits and processes. It provides clarity on which projects are in each category of application across the state, as well as the permitting process for each. The legislation does not change the process or permitting by municipalities. It would be effective January 1, 2024.
- Legislation sponsored by Rep. Speakman would amend last year’s legislation (2022-H 7942 SUB B) pertaining to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to spur production of ADUs, including as a home for populations unable to find suitable affordable housing, such as seniors and college/professional school graduates. The legislation makes clear what ADUs are allowed by right and how they are considered in the local permitting process. It does not take away municipal control of permitting, but only allows two categories by right. The legislation also specifies that ADUs cannot be used for short-term/transient use. The legislation would be effective immediately.
- Legislation sponsored by Municipal Government and Housing Committee Chairman Stephen M. Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket) would require all municipal land use approvals to be consistent with future land use maps so long as the municipality’s comprehensive plan is updated in accordance with statute. The legislation specifies that comprehensive plans must be updated at least every 10 years and that comprehensive plans not updated within 12 years will not be able to be utilized as the basis for local board denials. It also provides accountability and specifies that the city/town must review goals/progress with comprehensive plans annually.
- Legislation sponsored by Rep. Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket) creates a transit-oriented development pilot program to encourage growth centers along transit corridors identified by state transit plans. The application, award, and reporting process for the pilot program would be outlined via rules and regulations developed by the Secretary of Housing.
- Legislation sponsored by Special Legislation Committee Chairwoman Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket, Central Falls) would allow, as a permitted use, the adaptive reuse of commercial structures (such as factories, hospitals, offices, malls, religious facilities, and schools) into high density residential developments. The legislation sets forth zoning incentives for development, including parking not required to be over one space per unit and minimum lot size per dwelling unit not to determine density. This bill does not take away the municipal review and permitting process for such developments.
- Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jose Batista (D-Dist. 12, Providence) would repeal Rhode Island’s State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) as of January 1, 2024, and allow for a direct appeal process to Superior Court. Abutters currently appeal approvals directly to Superior Court, under a different standard, while applicant appeals go to SHAB; this amendment allows for a more streamlined appeal process under the same standards for all parties. This legislation retains the current SHAB standards for review on appeal.
- Legislation sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi would create a housing/land use court calendar. The legislation allows the presiding judge of Superior Court to establish a housing and land use calendar to streamline eligible matters and establish administrative orders for their processing. With this legislative package, all planning board appeals are being altered to go straight to Superior Court; this bill accommodates that influx. This legislation does not provide for additional appeals of matters that did not previously exist, or otherwise alter any process or standards of review on appeal. It would be effective January 1, 2024.
- Legislation sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown) would make amendments to the inclusionary zoning statute to require base level density bonus and turnover of fees in lieu of not being utilized by the municipality within two years. This legislation does not change the process or permitting by municipalities, or take funds away for use for affordable housing within the municipality. The legislation would be effective January 1, 2024.
- Legislation sponsored by Chairman Craven would amend zoning standards and make changes to dimensional variance standards. The legislation clarifies that each special use permit is required to have specific criteria for each allowed use, and clarifies and adjusts the process for the application and granting of administrative zoning approvals. This legislation does not change the process or permitting by municipalities; it retains the local ability to establish by ordinance the requirements for each type of special use permit. The legislation would be effective January 1, 2024.
- Legislation sponsored by Rep. Cherie L. Cruz (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket) would eliminate the rental application fee. The legislation would be effective January 1, 2024.
- Legislation sponsored by Labor Committee Chairman Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55) would standardize the type of notice and advertisements required for all land use permitting. This legislation does not alter the persons or properties receiving notification as abutters, and does not change the ability for anyone to request notice under the registry provision passed several years ago.
- Legislation sponsored by Rep. Speakman would extend the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act (2022-H 7091) from 2023 to 2025. The legislation would also extend the purpose of the commission to include “housing affordability.”
- Legislation sponsored by Rep. Joshua J. Giraldo (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls) would extend the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Entire Area of Land Use, Preservation, Development, Housing, Environment, and Regulation (2022-H 7576) from 2023 to 2025.