STATE HOUSE – The House on Tuesday passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Leonela Felix to promote the construction of housing units near transportation hubs such as the Pawtucket/Central Falls train station. The legislation is part of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s 14-bill package of legislation to address Rhode Island’s housing crisis.
“Promoting denser development around transit hubs is not only about creating affordable housing, but also about building more sustainable and equitable communities,” said Representative Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket). “By investing in mixed-use developments near public transportation, this pilot program will help address housing shortages, reduce traffic, improve air quality and move us closer to achieving our carbon emission targets. Accessible housing and reliable public transportation are essential components of creating equitable and sustainable communities.”
The bill (2023-H 6084Aaa) would create a pilot program to fund projects that build dense, mixed-use development around transit centers like train stations and bus hubs. The program would work in concert with the state’s Transit Forward 2040 master plan, which sets out steps to build a modern, efficient public transportation system throughout the state by 2040.
Part of the master plan is focusing development around “regional transit hubs” like the Pawtucket/Central Falls train station and Kennedy Plaza, as well as “frequent transit” stops where buses would run every fifteen minutes. By building housing in these areas, advocates say, residents would be able to get around without needing to drive everywhere. Reducing the number of cars on the road reduces traffic and pot holes, improves air quality and helps the state comply with carbon emission targets.
The legislation would allow municipalities with developable land or properties within a one-quarter mile radius of a regional mobility hub or a one-eighth mile radius of a frequent transit stop to apply for funding for housing in these areas, as long as they comply with certain density requirements.
The state already has some transit-oriented development planned around the new train station and transit hub in Pawtucket and Central Falls. Because of this, the two communities would be well positioned to utilize this pilot program to spur more housing production. Other municipalities around the state would also be able to apply for this funding, provided they comply with the zoning requirements.
“This pilot program is a crucial step towards promoting a healthier lifestyle for all Rhode Islanders by prioritizing the development of sustainable neighborhoods that are accessible, affordable and prioritize community well-being,” Representative Felix said. “Let's work together toward creating vibrant, walkable communities that benefit everyone.”
The legislation is one of the 14 bills that Speaker of the House K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), Representative Felix and others are proposing to bring down housing costs. The bill passed the House by a vote of 68 to one. It now heads to the Senate where Senator Kallman has related legislation (2023-S 8000).