Five Questions With: Frank S. Lombardi

Newly approved legislation by the General Assembly will allow homeowners in Rhode Island to create attached accessory apartments for family members, which can now include siblings, in-laws, parents, children, domestic partners and caregivers.

The legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Frank S. Lombardi, D-Cranston, and in the House by Rep. Evan P. Shanley, D-Warwick, effectively expands the definition of who is a family member. In the past, Lombardi said, disabled or elderly family members were the only people who could benefit from accessory dwelling units, often called in-law suites or apartments.

Under the new law, which has yet to be signed by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, the appearance of the house would remain like a single-family structure. No additional exterior entrances will be added, if at all possible.

Lombardi spoke to the Providence Business News this week about the new law.

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PBN: What does this do?

LOMBARDI: It basically expands the definition of family member.  [The intent was] for lack of a better term, keeping the family in place for reasons beyond disabilities and the aging population, but for financial purposes as well.

PBN: It almost seems like this was a no-brainer. Why wasn’t this in place already?

LOMBARDI: It’s kind of a house within a house. They were limited to certain disabled and elderly parents, but that was it. It didn’t make sense to me, once it was brought to my attention.

PBN: The intention is this has to be within the existing house?

LOMBARDI: In its great detail, it remains a single-family house. If you have to change, or add, any means of egress, it … should be on the side of the structure or the rear of the structure.

PBN: Is this helpful in creating more access to affordable housing for residents?

LOMBARDI: It’s undoubtedly helpful. [For example], I have kids coming out of school, out of college, riddled with debt.

PBN: Who are the family members that can benefit now from living in an attached structure?

LOMBARDI: A child, a domestic partner, a caregiver. We’ve actually had a caregiver now.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.