Assembly approves bills to help address housing crisis
Bills developed based on work of ongoing House commission
STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved a package of 10 bills to address the state’s housing crisis. The legislation was backed by House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Rep. June S. Speakman, chairwoman of the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act.
The bills aim to streamline development, provide more complete and timely information about housing, and help municipalities meet their affordable housing goals.
“Our state’s housing crisis developed over many years and the forces driving it are myriad and complicated. Similarly, addressing this issue is going to require deliberate, careful work, and it’s going to be an ongoing effort. Today we are pleased to make progress on many of the aspects of housing creation and access that our commission has identified, and we continue our commitment to meet our state’s housing challenges. I’m very grateful to the members of our housing commission, led by Rep. June Speakman, for the hard work, insight and consideration they’ve contributed to this effort over the last year, and that they will continue to provide as we work collaboratively on this critical issue into the future,” said House Speaker Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).
The legislation was developed based on the work of the House’s Low & Moderate Income Housing commission, which includes legislators, housing advocates, municipal officials and developers and has been meeting since July to help identify ways Rhode Island can meet its affordable housing needs. The bills are only the first pieces of legislation to be generated through the work of the commission, which is expected to continue its exploration of housing issues for at least another year.
“Our commission has heard from experts from across the policy spectrum, from planning officials to developers to advocates for housing and the environment. 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. While we have much work ahead of us, I’m confident that with leadership, collaboration and flexibility, we can develop the safe, comfortable, affordable, environmentally sound housing that Rhode Islanders should have,” said Chairwoman Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol).
The bills have the support of housing agencies and advocates around the state.
“HousingWorks RI applauds Speaker Shekarchi and LMIH Commission Chairwoman Speakman for providing critical leadership and direction as our state tackles housing challenges. This package of legislation begins to address some of the local barriers preventing the development of more homes in our communities. 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,” said Brenda Clement, director of HousingWorks RI, which advances housing affordability by collecting, analyzing and communicating information about housing throughout the state.
Said Melina Lodge, who is executive director of the Housing Network of Rhode Island/ Community Housing Land Trust of Rhode Island and a member of the special legislative commission, “The Housing Network of Rhode Island and its member organizations greatly appreciate Speaker Shekarchi’s leadership in reconvening the LMIH Commission to better orient stakeholders to the current constraints in developing low and moderate income housing and to hear about strategies that could improve existing systems and processes. This package of housing bills directly responds to and addresses 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.”
The legislation represents the second package of housing bills backed by House leaders. Last year, the General Assembly enacted multiple proposals from the House’s package, including one that created a permanent stream of affordable housing funding, another that now prohibits housing discrimination against those who receive Section 8 or other housing assistance, and another establishing a housing leader within the Executive Office of Commerce. That position would be elevated to a cabinet-level position under one of the bills (2022-H 7940Aaa) in this year’s package. The Special Legislative Commission to Study the Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act was also created by one of last year’s housing bills, sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi.
Besides Chairwoman Speakman, the commission includes Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence), Rep. Michael W. Chippendale (R-Dist. 40, Foster, Glocester, Coventry), Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg, ONE Neighborhood Builders President and Executive Director Jennifer Hawkins, Grow Smart Rhode Island Executive Director Scott Wolf, Pawtucket Central Falls Development Corporation Executive Director Linda Weisinger, Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness Executive Director Caitlin Frumerie, Rhode Island Association of Realtors Government Affairs Director David Salvatore, Rita Danielle Steele, Esq. Steele Realty Consultants, Rhode Island Builders Vice President David Caldwell, Housing Network of Rhode Island/Community Housing Land Trust of Rhode Island Executive Director Melina Lodge, Rhode Island Housing Executive Director Carol Ventura, Robert Marshall of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, Glocester Town Planner Karen Scott, Providence Department of Planning Director of Community Development Emily Freedman, Barrington Tax Assessor Kenneth Mallette, and Jongsung Kim of the Bryant University Department of Economics.
Descriptions of the bills, all of which were passed by the General Assembly today, are below:
2022-H 7949Aaa Rep. Speakman
2022-S 3046A Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence)
- Updates the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act.
- Streamlines the procedure for approval of construction of low or moderate income housing.
- Streamlines the appeals process when a comprehensive permit is denied, requiring municipalities to provide the State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) the complete record of the development’s applications within 30 days, and requiring a decision by the body within nine months, or no more than 11 months if there are extenuating circumstances.
- 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.
- Elevates the position of Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Housing to Secretary of Housing, a cabinet-level position within the executive branch of government, reporting directly to the Governor.
- This act would create a new Department of Housing
- The Secretary of Housing would retain all the powers, duties, responsibilities, and obligations of the Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Housing.
- The Secretary will develop and provide to the Assembly a comprehensive report that supports the new Department of Housing.
- Effective July 1, 2022.
2022-H 7945A Rep. Speakman
2022-S 3045 Sen. Kallman
- Amends the composition of the State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) by adding:
- One member representing the Center for Justice Rhode Island.
- One representing Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE).
- Two alternates selected by the governor from a list provided by Realtors or developers.
- Requires the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission to issue an annual status report detailing the number of appeals pending before the SHAB; the number decided by SHAB in the previous year; and a breakdown of how many were decided within six months, how many took six to nine months, and how many took longer than nine months.
2022-H 7941A Speaker Shekarchi
2022-S 3044 Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston)
- 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 30% of the units created are deed restricted for households earning not more than 60% of AMI, and that at least 50% of the units created are deed restricted for households earning not more than eighty percent 80%.
- Establishes the repurposing of school buildings for an affordable housing program, which shall be administered by the Secretary of Housing.
- Requires the Rhode Island Department of Education to provide a list of all school buildings that are abandoned or no longer being used by school districts.
- The Secretary of Housing shall conduct an assessment in conjunction with a task force comprised of the Rhode Island Housing Resources and Mortgage Finance Corporation, the Department of Environmental Management, the Department of Health, a Fire Marshall, the local building inspector, and the local planning office, 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 7942B Rep. Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln)
2022-S 2623A Sen. Kallman (Note – the Senate bill is not identical to the House bill. Specifically, it does not prohibit municipalities from limiting ADUs to owner-occupied properties.)
- Revises the definition of an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and removes the requirement that an 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 7946A Rep. Thomas Noret (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick)
2022-S 3049 Senator Quezada
· Requires Rhode Island Housing to collect data on the number of Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers which are received and utilized by each municipality, housing authorities, and agencies.
- Requires the Office of Housing and Community Development (“OHCD”) to prepare and submit an annual report regarding low and moderate income housing and Section 8 vouchers to the General Assembly, the Housing Resources Commission, the Rhode Island Housing Corporation, the Division of Statewide Planning, and the Secretary of Housing. That report shall: be made available on the OHCD website for a period of at least
three years, be deemed to be a public record, and contain:
- The total fees collected by each municipality from developers in lieu of development of low and moderate income housing.
- The number of unfunded vouchers which result either due to cost of rent or due to an unavailability of housing units (as provided by all public housing authorities or agencies).
- The total number of vouchers received and utilized by all public housing authorities in the preceding year.
- The administrative fees received and utilized by the public housing authorities to administer the vouchers.
2022-H 7944A Rep. Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence)
2022-S 3051 Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence)
- Requires Rhode Island Housing to maintain, on its website, an online database of low income rental units and housing tax credit developments which are designated only for households at or below 60% of area median income, adjusted for household size and subsidized housing developments, as referenced in the Rhode Island Resource Guide, which are designated only for households at or below 80% of area median income, adjusted for household size .
- Establishes an approved monitoring agent program for which the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission shall appoint and oversee approved monitoring agents who would be responsible for, among other things, ensuring that designated affordable housing units continue to serve as the year-round, principal residence of the qualified owner and that any proposed refinancing or sale complies with applicable affordable-housing deed restrictions.
- Provides that the Commission shall promulgate rules and regulations for the implementation of the program on or before July 1, 2023.
2022-H 7947A Rep. Potter
2022-S 3052 Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield)
- Requires the Division of Statewide Planning to maintain records and prepare reports to the General Assembly, the Housing Resources Commission and the Secretary of Housing about affordable housing developments in the works.
- The reports shall be made available on the division’s website for a period of at least three years