Rhode Island legislature approves more ADUs

Residents in the state of Rhode Island could soon have an easier time constructing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their properties, as a bill prioritized by the state’s House Speaker Rep. Joe Shekarchi and sponsored by AARP passed the Rhode Island House of Representatives earlier this week.

The bill, 2023-H 6082Aaa (given additional letters in its designation to reflect that it has been amended), is part of a broader package of 14 bills sought by the speaker in an effort to address housing issues and spur additional production according to reporting at The Providence Journal. It allows property owners to construct an ADU without having to limit its use to family members, and construction on larger lots would not require permission.

The latest bill passed without support from any of the 10 Republicans serving in the chamber, according to a tally of the final roll call. The same was true of another housing bill, 2023-H 6081, which would remove a step in permitting housing projects that would include larger developments if they include affordable housing.

While some Republicans did support some of the earlier measures in the speaker’s proposed housing priorities, their support has dissipated due to their position that several of the bills spearheaded by Democrats would diminish local control of the decisions that permit the construction of certain housing developments, according to the Providence Journal.

“The overarching theme is the loss of local control,” said Michael Chippendale, the House’s minority leader to the paper. “We are taking a lot of liberties as a state and giving a lot of power to developers that towns just may not want to or more not be able to do.”

Chippendale also expressed that House leadership has not taken the concerns of the state’s rural communities seriously enough. Another Republican legislator, Rep. Patricia Morgan, echoed concerns about a loss of local control to the Journal.

“When you take away local control you are threatening the wealth of every family,” she told the outlet.

Democrats call the concerns of their colleagues overblown, with legislators saying that the measures approved this week will help the state get through administrative “detritus,” while another Democratic lawmaker disagrees with the notion of local control being removed.

The passage of this bill follows similar initiatives to further incorporate ADUs into the American housing ecosystem. In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed a series of bills this month which included an easing of ADU permitting and construction.

Last month, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) published draft guidance that would update the mortgage insurance requirements on single-family homes to offer additional flexibility for calculating market rent and using ADU rental income to help qualify for FHA-insured mortgage financing.

ADU popularity appears to be increasing, particularly on the West Coast. In the Seattle area, there was a 250% ADU construction increase in 2022 compared to 2019 while in California, demand for ADUs is quickly outpacing supply according to local media outlets and reports from local governments and building organizations.

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