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Speaker Shekarchi and Rep Speakman introduce a series of housing bills

The bills, said the Speaker in his press release, “aim to streamline development, provide more complete and timely information about housing and help municipalities meet their affordable housing goals.”
Photo for Speaker Shekarchi and Rep Speakman introduce a series of housing bills

Published on March 11, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Rhode Island Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi and Representative June Speakman announced a package of 11 bills to help address the state’s housing crisis on Thursday. The bills were generated by the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing, which is chaired by Representative Speakman. The bills (listed and linked below) are only the first bills to be generated through the work of the commission, which is expected to continue its exploration of housing issues for at least another year.

The bills, said the Speaker in his press release, “aim to streamline development, provide more complete and timely information about housing and help municipalities meet their affordable housing goals.”

“Rhode Island needs more housing, but getting there isn’t just about building more homes,” said Speaker Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick). “We need to look at the myriad rules and regulations that make building a challenge, streamline efforts so that good work isn’t happening in a vacuum, and hold policy-makers accountable.”

“Our commission has heard from experts from across the policy spectrum, from planning officials to developers to advocates for housing and the environment,” said Representative Speakman (Democrat, District 68, Warren Bristol). “What we’ve learned is that, while we are facing a broad array of challenges including our governmental structures and the magnitude of the demand, we have the expertise in this state to develop equitable, sustainable solutions to our housing crisis. I look forward to the work ahead, because I’m confident that with leadership, collaboration and flexibility, we can develop the safe, comfortable, affordable, environmentally sound housing that Rhode Islanders should have.”

“The proposed package of legislation begins to address some of the local barriers preventing the development of more homes in our communities,” said Brenda Clement, director of HousingWorks RI, which advances housing affordability by collecting, analyzing and communicating information about housing throughout the state. “Removing these barriers, in combination with significant investment of federal and state dollars, will go a long way to help us address this complex problem. These past few years have reminded us all of how critical it is to have a safe and affordable home. Housing advocates have long said that the path to economic opportunity begins at your front door.”

“The package of housing bills being presented today directly responds to and address a number of the concerns and roadblocks that have been elevated during commission hearings and are necessary changes to increase the supply of affordable homes in Rhode Island and ensure that all Rhode Islanders have access to homes that are affordable to them in the community of their choice,” said Melina Lodge, the executive director of the Housing Network of Rhode Island/ Community Housing Land Trust of Rhode Island. Lodge was also a member of the special commission.

These bills follow on bills submitted and approved by the General Assembly last year, including a bill creating a permanent stream of affordable housing funding, another that prohibits housing discrimination against those who receive Section 8 or other housing assistance, and another establishing a “housing czar” within the Executive Office of Commerce.

The bills (listed and linked below) are only the first bills to be generated through the work of the commission, which is expected to continue for at least the next year. Speaker Shekarchi noted that the public should also expect more “radical” bills based on the work of a second commission studying “The Entire Area of Land Use, Preservation, Development, Housing, Environment, and Regulation.”

Here are the bills:

2022-H 7949 Representative Speakman
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING 

  • Updates the low and moderate income housing act.
  • Revises the procedure for approval of construction of low or moderate income housing and removes the requirement of a pre application conference.
  • Revises the State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) appeal procedure as outlined below in 2022-H 7945.
  • Revises the composition of SHAB and requires the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission to provide all space, clerical, and other assistance as the board may require.
  • Improves an approved monitoring agent program for which the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission shall appoint and oversee approved monitoring agents.
  • Provides that the Commission shall promulgate rules and regulations for the implementation of the program on or before July 1, 2023.

2022-H 7940  Speaker Shekarchi
AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT — EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF COMMERCE 

  • Elevates the position of Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Housing to the Secretary of Commerce for Housing, a cabinet-level position within the executive branch of government, reporting to the Governor.
  • The Secretary of Commerce for Housing would retain all the powers, duties, responsibilities, and obligations of the Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Housing.
  • Effective July 1, 2022.

2022-H 7945 Representative Speakman
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING 

  • Requires the State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) to issue decisions and orders no later than 9 months after receipt of the applicant’s statement. If the decision and order is not issued within 9 months, a judgment shall be entered in favor of the applicant.
  • Amends the composition of SHAB by adding:
    • A member selected by the Speaker of the House and another selected by the Senate President. 
    • 2 more alternates selected by the Speaker of the House.

2022-H 7941 Speaker Shekarchi
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING 

  • Provides that multi-family rental apartment units built under a comprehensive permit may be calculated towards meeting the requirements of a municipality’s low or moderate income housing inventory.
  • Requires that at least 25% of the units created are deed restricted for households earning not more than 60% of AMI.

2022-H 7943 Representative Baginski
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING 

  • Establishes the repurposing of schools and other vacant and unused municipal buildings for an affordable housing program, which shall be administered by the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation.
  • Requires the League of Cities and Towns to provide Rhode Island Housing with a list of all vacant and unused municipal buildings.
  • Requires the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission and the Rhode Island Division of Statewide Planning to investigate, in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Management, the Department of Health, a Fire Marshall, the local building inspector, and the local zoning officer, any potential conversion.
  • Once a building is determined to be appropriate for conversion, Rhode Island Housing shall invite prospective developers to bid on the repurposing.

2022-H 7942 Representative Ackerman
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – ZONING ORDINANCES

  • Revises the definition of an accessory dwelling unit and removes the requirement that an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) be occupied by someone related by family to the principal residence.
  • Streamlines the application process for small scale ADU development proposals.
  • Allows for ADUs in large lot residential districts.
  • Allows municipalities to count ADUs toward low and moderate income housing requirements and goals.

2022-H 7946 Representative. Noret
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING

  • Requires Rhode Island Housing to:
    • Maintain records on the number of Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers which are received and utilized by each municipality, housing authorities, and agencies.
    • Report on its website the dollar amount received by public housing agencies for administering the Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

2022-H 7948 Representative. Potter
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING

  • Provides that mobile and manufactured homes may be included in calculating the number of total year-round low and moderate income housing and rental units and the conditions that would allow for that (e.g., income eligibility, 10 year minimum deed restriction).

2022-H 7944 Representative Corvese
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING 

  • Requires the Statewide Planning Division to establish an affordable housing online database which shall include the following information:
    • A list of low and moderate income housing units in the state, identified by each municipality.
    • The number of active applications pending for a comprehensive permit application to build affordable housing and the number of applications which have had permits issued for affordable housing plans, aggregated by each municipality.
    • A list of available affordable housing units along with contact information for the rental or purchase of these units.

2022-H 7950 Representative Speakman
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING

  • Improves an approved monitoring agent program for which the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission shall appoint and oversee approved monitoring agents.
  • Provides that the Commission shall promulgate rules and regulations for the implementation of the program on or before July 1, 2023.

2022-H 7947 Representative Potter
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES – LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING 

  • Requires Rhode Island Housing to maintain records and prepare reports on a biannual basis to the General Assembly, the Housing Resources Commission and the Secretary of Commerce for Housing.
  • The reports shall be made available on Rhode Island Housing’s website for a period of at least 3 years and shall include the total amount of fees collected and payments made in lieu of taxes that were collected by each municipality.

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