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3/7/2024 Speaker Shekarchi announces 2024 housing legislation
STATE HOUSE – House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi today announced a 15-bill package of legislation regarding housing issues, his fourth comprehensive suite of housing bills since becoming Speaker in 2021.

The bills announced today continue Speaker Shekarchi’s efforts to address Rhode Island’s housing crisis and expand upon initiatives outlined in his previous legislative efforts.

“I want Rhode Island to be a state where families can have a good life and raise their children, where young people can live near their parents and hometowns, and where seniors can age in place with dignity,” said Speaker Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick). “Unfortunately, Rhode Island does not have enough housing supply to keep up with demand. Too many years of being dead last in the country for new housing permits have caught up with us.

“Our housing and homelessness crisis has been decades in the making and will take a long-term, sustained effort to fix. Although we’ve already introduced and passed three packages of housing legislation – approximately 30 bills – we still have a great deal of work left,” continued Speaker Shekarchi. “I am committed to seeing this through until all Rhode Islanders have a good, safe home. I am thankful to everyone who has partnered with me to raise the dialogue and develop viable solutions to create more housing.”

Speaker Shekarchi was joined by Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), chair of the Special Legislative Commission to Affordable Housing; Thomas E. Deller, chair of the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Entire Area of Land Use; members of both commissions; legislators; housing advocates; builders; and developers.

“This package of housing bills builds upon the work of the Housing and Land Use Commissions and on the housing laws enacted in 2022 and 2023. These bills continue our efforts to make the approval process more effective, zoning more flexible, and to get the best use of our existing buildings. Those efforts will pay off as we produce more safe, comfortable, affordable homes for Rhode Islanders,” said Rep. Speakman.

Much of 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.

“The legislation announced today is reflective of the work of the legislative housing commissions: collaborative, responsive, and solutions-oriented. As someone who has been working in the development and planning space for many years, I am very pleased to be witnessing a sea change in how the state of Rhode Island is addressing its housing shortage,” said Deller, Johnston Town Planner and Director of Development & Public Services. “As Speaker Shekarchi keeps reminding us, the status quo is not working. We need to be willing to implement changes if we want to truly fix our housing shortage.”

"We are grateful to Speaker Shekarchi for assembling another package aimed at advancing housing production and improving affordability in Rhode Island. We very much appreciate the intensive focus on these critical issues,” said Stefan Pryor, Rhode Island Secretary of Housing. “The Department of Housing and the Governor's Office look forward to working closely with the Speaker as these bills progress through the legislature."

“HousingWorks RI thanks the Speaker, General Assembly members, Housing Affordability and Land Use Commissions for their strong commitment to addressing housing challenges in Rhode Island,” said Brenda Clement, Executive Director, HousingWorks RI at RWU. “As our annual Housing Factbook has noted for years, one out of three Rhode Islanders are ‘housing cost-burdened.’ In our small state that means either you are the one or someone within your family or community is struggling to keep a roof over their head or doesn’t have one. HousingWorks envisions a state where ALL communities embrace a variety of housing choices so that ALL of our residents can live in healthy and affordable homes in vibrant and safe neighborhoods. While addressing housing issues is complicated, we are confident that with continued funding, resources and support from local and state officials, a healthy and affordable home for all Rhode Islanders is achievable.”

“We should all be grateful for the leadership of Speaker Shekarchi as he continues to take the needed steps forward to help solve RIs housing crisis,” said John V. Marcantonio, Chief Executive Officer, Rhode Island Builders Association.

“The ramifications of Rhode Island’s housing crisis are broad. While its impact is most directly felt by those facing unprecedented barriers to home ownership, each and every Rhode Islander is affected. And, without adequate housing, our workforce can’t grow,” said David A. Salvatore, Rhode Island Association of Realtors Vice President, Public Affairs, “Speaker Shekarchi understands that we can’t afford a band-aid solution. The housing package he has put forth is comprehensive and focused on ensuring Rhode Islanders have a place to live and work for generations to come.”
Here are the bills unveiled today:
  • 2024-H 7062, sponsored by Chair Speakman, this legislation would provide homeowners the right to develop an ADU for a family member with a disability, or 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. Speaker Shekarchi is the bill’s top cosponsor. This legislation passed the House on February 14, 2024.
  • 2024-H 7980, sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi, allows, by right, manufactured homes constructed in accordance with HUD Regulations as an alternative option to stick-built homes where single- family housing is allowed.    
  • 2024-H 7979, sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi, is enabling legislation to create a pilot program giving municipalities the authority to combine zoning and planning boards into one so long as the agenda reflects what authority an application is being heard under. This would allow a more expedited process or to allow municipalities who cannot get members to fill their boards to utilize one board for both. It does not impact local appointment of members.
  • 2024-H 7981, sponsored by Representative Joshua J. Giraldo (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls), would allow, by right, residential uses in commercial zones. Existing law allows “households” in all zoning districts by right, yet residential is prohibited by some municipalities in commercial zones. This legislation makes clear that residential use is allowed in commercial zones and it is allowed in industrial zones unless public health/safety would prohibit that usage. It does not alter other municipal zoning requirements for residential uses in these zones.
  • 2024-H 7983, sponsored by Representative Cherie Cruz (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket), would clarify the makeup and structure of the State Building Code Office, and also clarifies the role of the State Building Code Commissioner. It modifies statutory language to create a similar scope of responsibility and authority over building code issues, as the State Fire Marshal has over the fire code issues
  • 2024-H 7978, sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi, is enabling legislation which builds upon the platform established and created by the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, which is currently in use and required for building permits for applications and submissions for planning and zoning. The legislation would provide greater transparency and efficiency, streamlines processes and makes timelines and submission requirements more clear. It does not require usage of local budget funds; rather it utilizes an existing state database to be adapted to fit these applications.
  • 2024-H 7977, sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi, establishes an 11-member commission to study the ability of the RI educational system to offer degrees or certificates to provide a supply/pipeline of planners, planning technicians and staff, and report back to the General Assembly by January 1, 2025. Its purpose is to address a shortage of planning professionals in the state and the lack of a local educational program to establish a pipeline for these jobs.
  • 2024-H 7986, sponsored by Representative José F. Batista (D-Dist. 12, Providence) amends the existing statute for abandoned properties to further require municipal inventory, with yearly updating, as to “abandoned” properties” as defined in the statute and clarifies the process regarding the required abatement of abandoned properties.
  • 2024-H 7949, sponsored by Representative Robert E. Craven, Sr. (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown), makes amendments and clarifications to various provisions relative to subdivision of land review, review stages, special provisions related to development, and the procedures for approvals from various permitting authorities. It is based upon feedback from municipalities (League of Cities and Towns) and the RI APA-planners.
  • 2024-H 7948, sponsored by Representative Joseph J. Solomon, Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick), provides amendments to the requirements of the inclusionary zoning law for affordable housing development to incorporate feedback from the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Planning Association. Inclusionary zoning is an optional tool for municipalities to require the provision of affordable units in conjunction with the development of market rate units. This legislation does not alter municipal approval requirements.
  • 2024-H 7982, sponsored by Representative Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Middletown, Portsmouth), amends provisions relative to the application of zoning ordinances pertaining to wetland buffers to projects for development, redevelopment, construction or rehabilitation. The legislation makes clear that there can be no local regulation of coastal wetlands and freshwater wetlands beyond the requirements of the state agency requirements. The legislation does not take away any responsibility from the RI Coastal Resources Management Council or RI Department of Environmental Management.
  • 2024-H 7950, sponsored by Representative Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket), requires cities/towns to allow up to three disclosed options on the types of financial security to be provided by developers on projects that include public improvements (such as surety bonds, letters of credit, cash). Municipalities cannot limit the bond to one specific type, but still retain all ability to require bonds and improvement guarantees for public improvements.
  • 2024-H 7951, sponsored by Rep. Craven, clarifies the circumstances under which a municipality can limit accepting and hearing development applications and limit building permits, and specifies the timeframes in which those limitations can be in place.
  • 2024-H 7984, sponsored by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), allows municipalities to count mobile home units as affordable housing, if they meet certain requirements, including that they are permanent housing. Mobile homes could be applied toward the goal of 10% of a municipality’s housing stock to be low- and moderate-income housing, with ½ credit per qualifying mobile home.
  • 2024-H 7985, sponsored by Representative Tina L. Spears (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, Sout​h​​ Kingstown, New Shoreham, W​ester​​ly​​), further enables statewide planning, in conjunction with other agencies and the University of Rhode Island, to broaden the state’s GIS to include updated municipal information, such as zoning, and develop greater utilization, public access and transparency across the state. It encourages collaboration between municipalities, nonprofits, and state agencies.

For more information, contact:
Larry Berman, Communications Director for the Office of the Speaker
State House Room 322
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2466