Advocates celebrate McKee’s signing of housing legislation

HOUSE SPEAKER K. JOSEPH SHEKARCHI addresses a crowd in front of the former Aldrich Junior High School in Warwick, the site of a pending housing development by WinnDevelopment. Gov. McKee then signed a host of bills into law aimed at addressing Rhode Island's housing shortage./PBN SCREENSHOT/CHRISTOPHER ALLEN

WARWICK – Gov. Daniel J. McKee on Wednesday ceremoniously signed the legislative package passed by the General Assembly in June and led by House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi aimed to address the state’s housing shortage.

McKee formally signed the laws in June. The 13-bill package goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024.

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Several state and local leaders were in attendance at the former Aldrich Junior High School in Warwick, a site seen as an exemplar of both the future conversions of commercial and other non-residential buildings into residential units and the an opportunity to create housing close to public transit.

One of the bills streamlines the application process for the adaptive reuse of commercial structures like schools, hospitals, factories and houses of worship. Warwick officials plan to convert the Aldrich property into 75 housing units that will prioritize senior citizens.

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With limited developable land compared to other states, the “adaptive reuse” of vacant buildings for apartment units will be a necessary component to increase housing stock and counteract rising rental prices, according to housing advocates.

On Wednesday a group of supporters organized by Grow Smart RI took a bus from downtown Providence to attend the ceremony and highlight the bill sponsored by Rep. Leonela Felix, D-Pawtucket, and Sen. Meghan Kallman, D-Pawtucket, that establishes a pilot program for construction of housing units near public transportation hubs.

The state fiscal 2024 budget includes $4 million for transit-oriented projects.

In response to a decline in student population, the Warwick School Department closed Aldrich in 2016 and transferred the property back to the city as part of a consolidation plan, according to public bidding documents. The site includes athletic fields and the three-story, 122,011-square-foot building constructed in 1994.

On June 26 the Warwick City Council voted to sell the 11-acre Post Road property to Boston-based WinnDevelopment for $2 million.

While housing development nationwide has increased year-over-year, Rhode Island ranked dead last for new residential construction in 2021, according to a 2022 report by Boutique Home Plans, which used data from the U.S. Census Bureau on new building permits from 1986 to 2021. 

R.I. Secretary of Housing Stefan Pryor on Wednesday said that in addition to the $250 million state investment in housing included in the fiscal 2023 budget, there is also $100 million in combined funding and tax credits in this year’s budget.

Shekarchi on Wednesday said the housing package would not have succeeded last session without the collective efforts of state and local housing advocates, Smith Hill allies and the McKee administration.

“These were not my bills,” he said. “These were everybody’s bills.”

Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at Allen@PBN.com. 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Much ado about nothing! Nothing like saddling taxpayers with the cost of housing that apparently isn’t economically feasible otherwise the marketplace would build it without government intervention.
    Politicians wasting taxpayer to buy themselves votes.