Shekarchi unveils package of affordable housing legislation

PROVIDENCE – House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi on Monday unveiled a package of seven pieces of legislation aimed at making housing more available and affordable in the state.

The Warwick Democrat said housing is “a critical challenge,” and also urged Rhode Island voters to approve Question 3 in Tuesday’s statewide special referenda election to authorize $65 million in bonds for affordable housing development.

“Long before the COVID-19 pandemic reached us, Rhode Island was facing a profound housing crisis,” said Shekarchi. “Our housing is not affordable, in short supply, and our stock is aging and often not in safe, livable condition. Rents are out of reach for average-income families, and those making less than that face enormous challenges finding, let alone paying for an apartment. Rhode Island urgently needs action to meet the housing demands of our population.”

The seven bills proposed by House lawmakers include:

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  • Bill H 5951, sponsored by Shekarchi, would create a “housing czar” within R.I. Commerce Corp. to oversee housing initiatives and develop a housing plan.
  • Bill H 5950, sponsored by Shekarchi, would create a legislative commission to study all aspects of land use, preservation, development, production, regulation, zoning, housing and the environment.
  • Bill H 5257, sponsored by House Labor Committee Chairwoman Rep. Anastasia P. Williams, D-Providence, would prohibit housing discrimination against those who receive government assistance to pay their rent.
  • Bill H 5953, introduced by Rep. June S. Speakman, D-Bristol, would create a special legislative commission to study the Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act.
  • Bill H 5954, introduced by House floor manager Rep. John G. Edwards, D-Tiverton, would extend for three years a tax exemption he originally sponsored to encourage more affordable housing development.
  • Bill H 5632, sponsored by House Deputy Majority Whip Rep. Mia A. Ackerman, D-Cumberland, would require cities and towns to allow tiny homes to be used as accessory dwelling units and to be counted as affordable housing.
  • Bill H 5568, introduced by House Deputy Speaker Charlene M. Lima, D-Cranston, D-Providence, would enable local planning boards to establish a quorum for votes to help prevent delays in development matters.

Shekarchi also noted that the $200 million in rental assistance for Rhode Island approved in the federal stimulus package that was signed into law last December was a critical resource in helping the state with some of its most immediate, pandemic-related housing crises.

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