STATE HOUSE – More Rhode Islanders will be able to develop accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property under legislation sponsored by Rep. June S. Speakman and approved by the House of Representatives today.
The bill (2023-H 6082Aaa), which now goes to the Senate, is part of the 14-bill housing package backed 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 ledsince 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, 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 struggle to 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 staying 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 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 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 or near family members 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 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 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.
The bill is cosponsored by House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence, Pawtucket), Speaker Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), Rep. Megan L. Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Richmond, Hopkinton), Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), Rep. Cheri L. Cruz (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket), Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) and Rep. Stephen M. Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket). A similar bill (2023-S 1006) has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Victoria Gu (D-Dist. 38, Charlestown, Westerly).