ADU development bill signed into law

New law will help address housing crisis

 

STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by House Commission on Housing Affordability Chairwoman June S. Speakman and Sen. Victoria Gu to help Rhode Islanders to develop accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property has been signed into law. The legislation is intended as a way to boost production of an affordable housing option.

ADUs, sometimes referred to as in-law apartments or granny flats, 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 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 continuing to live independently in their community.

The legislation (2024-H 7062A, 2024-S 2998A) was written in collaboration with stakeholders and advocates, including AARP, for which increasing production of ADUs has been a primary policy goal for several years.

The new law, which took effect immediately when Gov. Dan McKee signed it June 25, provides homeowners statewide the right to develop a single ADU on an owner-occupied property to accommodate a disabled family member, or within the existing footprint of their structures or on any lot larger than 20,000 square feet, provided that the ADU’s design satisfies building code, size limits and infrastructure requirements.

The measure is meant to encourage the development of rental units that are likely to be more affordable than many other apartments, and also to provide opportunities for homeowners with extra space to generate income that helps them maintain ownership of that property.

“One of the drivers of our housing crisis is the low construction rate in Rhode Island. Our state has the lowest per-capita construction rate in the whole country. We need to be creative and be willing to allow construction of housing, particularly affordable, moderate and small units like ADUs,” said Chairwoman Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol). “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. This bill removes some of the obstacles to building ADUs while respecting municipal land use policies.”

Said Senator Gu (D-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown), “ADUs offer the ‘missing middle:’ housing that is smaller, more affordable and smartly repurposes our existing buildings and garages. Homeowners can be a part of the solution to the housing crisis by creating or converting a garage, basement or shed into an ADU and offering it as a long-term rental. Then they have the benefit of receiving some additional income or housing a loved one, friend or onsite caregiver. It’s a win-win.”

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.

The sponsors added that, because ADUs are small and often can be created without even altering the footprint of the existing building, they don’t change the character of their neighborhood.

The legislation was identified as a high priority this year for House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi in the House’s effort to address the state’s housing crisis. Speaker Shekarchi was the House bill’s top cosponsor.

“We must reframe how we think about housing as we grow older, and ADUs are part of the equation,” said Catherine Taylor, AARP Rhode Island state director. “Aging in community – where 87% of Rhode Islanders 45 and older have told us they wish to be – is possible if homes can be modified to accommodate changing needs. Our cities and towns must have housing options that are suitable for differing incomes, ages and life stages. ADUs are an important way to accomplish this goal.”

Along with AARP, the bill was supported by numerous organizations and agencies, including Rhode Island Housing, Grow Smart RI and Housing Network RI.

 

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