Assembly approves Speaker Shekarchi’s housing package


STATE HOUSE –  The General Assembly this year supported House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s effort to address Rhode Island’s housing crisis by speeding housing production, approving 13 of the 14 bills in the package of housing legislation he backed this session.

“I am truly grateful to my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for their support and collaboration on the passage of our housing bills. Regardless of party or district, every member of our chambers understands how profoundly this crisis affects their constituents. We all recognize that, although there are no overnight, one-size-fits-all solutions to a crisis that developed over decades, we need to fundamentally change our approach to housing development, particularly for the moderate and affordable development we need most,” said Speaker Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).  “I’m so proud of the collaboration and teamwork that went into the development and passage of these bills. They will help cut through a great deal of the frustrating red tape that is standing in the way of the development of new housing, moving housing forward for Rhode Islanders in all our communities who need and deserve safe and affordable homes.”

As the 2023 legislative session came to a close, the General Assembly approved the following bills, which will now be sent to the governor:

  • 2023-H 6081A2023-S 1037A sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), 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 6061Aaa2023-S 1034A sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) and Senate Majority Leader Ryan W. Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), 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 Jan. 1, 2024.
  • 2023-H 6085A2023-S 1033A sponsored by Municipal Government and Housing Committee Chairman Stephen M. Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket) and Senate Majority Leader Pearson, 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 or town must review goals and progress with comprehensive plans annually.
  • 2023-H 6084B2023-S 1052A sponsored by Rep. Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket) and Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, Providence), 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 6090A2023-S 1035A sponsored by Special Legislation Committee Chairwoman Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket, Central Falls) and Senator Kallman, 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 6083A2023-S 1050A sponsored by Rep. José F. Batista (D-Dist. 12, Providence) and Sen. Mark P. McKenney (D-Dist. 30, Warwick), would repeal Rhode Island’s State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) as of Jan. 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 6060A 2023-S 1053A sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi and Senator McKenney, 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 Jan. 1, 2024.
  • 2023-H 6058A2023-S 1051A sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown) and Sen. David P. Tikoian (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Lincoln), 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 Jan. 1, 2024.
  • 2023-H 6059A2023-S 1032A sponsored by Chairman Craven and Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston), 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 Jan. 1, 2024.
  • 2023-H 6087aa 2023-S 311A sponsored by Rep. Cherie L. Cruz (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket) and Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield), would prohibit rental application fees. The legislation would be effective Jan. 1, 2024.
  • 2023-H 6086A2023-S 1038A sponsored by Labor Committee Chairman Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence), and Senate President Ruggerio, 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.

The following bills, as resolutions, did not require Senate or gubernatorial approval and were passed by the House earlier this session:

  • 2023-H 6088 sponsored by Representative 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.

One bill in the package (2023-H 6082Aaa2023-S 1036), sponsored by Representative Speakman and Senator Kallman, passed the House but not the Senate. That bill was intended to spur development of Accessory Dwelling Units — also known as in-law apartments.

Speaker Shekarchi and sponsor Representative Speakman intend to continue working to refine that bill ahead of next year’s legislative session. Representative Speakman has led the House Commission to Study the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act since its inception in 2021, helping to shape the legislative response to the state’s housing crisis. Her commission, along with the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Entire Area of Land Use, Preservation, Development, Housing, Environment and Regulation, have helped to shape the legislation in this year’s housing package, as well as the 17 bills that have been enacted from Speaker Shekarchi’s housing packages over the previous two years’ sessions.