House passes all 14 bills in Speaker Shekarchi’s
package of housing legislation
STATE HOUSE – Earlier this year, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi introduced a 14-bill package of legislation to address Rhode Island’s housing crisis. As of yesterday, all 14 bills have been passed by the House of Representatives.
The legislation builds 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 now my colleagues and I have passed 14 more housing bills. Increasing housing production is a top priority for the House, and I’m very proud that my colleagues share my sense of urgency in addressing this issue.
“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.”
When Speaker Shekarchi announced the package of legislation in March, he was joined by Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), 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, developers, and the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.
The work of both commissions, as well as feedback and testimony from advocates and housing experts, was instrumental in the creation of the legislation. The commissions 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.
- 2023-H 6081 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6061 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6082 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6085 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6084 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6090 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6083 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6060 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6058 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6059 SUB A, 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.
- 2023-H 6087 as amended, sponsored by Rep. Cherie L. Cruz (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket), would eliminate the rental application fee. The legislation would be effective January 1, 2024.
- 2023-H 6086 SUB A, sponsored by Labor Committee Chairman Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence), 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.
- 2023-H 6088, 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.”
- 2023-H 6089, 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.
All of the legislation, except for the two bills extending the life of the House commissions, are now under consideration by the Senate; the two bills extending the House commissions do not need Senate approval.