Flanked by sponsors and supporters of the housing package, Governor Daniel McKee ceremoniously signed the housing package in front of the former Aldrich Junior High School on a sunny, sweltering July …
Flanked by sponsors and supporters of the housing package, Governor Daniel McKee ceremoniously signed the housing package in front of the former Aldrich Junior High School on a sunny, sweltering July 5.
“There’s a lot of work left to be done,” McKee said, pen in motion.
Overgrown with weeds and ivy climbing as high as the second floor and the roof, Aldrich was a fitting backdrop. H 6090A, one of the bills McKee signed, supports the adaptive reuse of commercial structures like schools, factories and hospitals into high density residential developments. Just two weeks ago, the Warwick City Council approved a $2 million bid with WinnDevelopment to convert this school built in 1934 into 15 studio, 55 one-bedroom and 5 two bedroom apartments geared towards seniors of mixed income.
Additionally, the development at Aldrich represents Transit Oriented Development since it is on a bus line. H6084B, one of the bills represented in this ceremony, issued $4 million to create a transit oriented development pilot that encourages growth along transit corridors.
Executive Director Scott Wolf and Deputy Director John Flaherty with SmartGrowth RI took a RIPTA bus from Kennedy Plaza to the event. They explained that housing and transportation are the two highest household expenses. By building TOD and combining the two expenses, Flaherty explained, it presents “the opportunity to substantially lower household expenses.”
RI Transit Riders issued a statement in support of the TOD legislation. They encourage the General Assembly and governor to start planning for how they will expand “access to food transit including safe and convenient transit stops, frequent service and extended hours of service” in order to fully meet the vision of TOD.
All of the signed bills tackle different elements to make housing processes more efficient. For example, H 6081A streamlines the process of permitting for low and moderate income housing, H 6060A established a housing/land use court calendar to streamline administrative processes and H 6061Aaa amends the permitting process for subdivision and land development.
“In the development world, there’s a notion that time is money,” Wolf said. “If it takes a long time for a project idea to be translated into reality that translation may never happen because it’s too expensive. We think expediting the process in a responsible way is very worthwhile.”
These bills represent a fraction of the 13 bills housing package passed under Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s leadership. Shekarchi described it as a “team effort” joining the other speakers at the ceremony in thanking the representatives, senators and advocates who made the legislation possible. He said the passage of 13 out of the 14 proposed housing legislation is “the product of many hours of work.”
“This is important because it’s a win-win-win-win,” Shekarchi explained. “It’s a win for the state. It’s a win for the city. It’s a win for affordable housing. It’s a win for transportation oriented development.”
McKee added that this legislation represents a piece of the ongoing effort to mitigate the state housing crisis. For example, this past year, the state invested $250 million in the state’s housing stock, nearly $115 million of which McKee said is committed and projected “to produce and support housing across the state.” Additionally, he thanked the General Assembly for passing the FY2024 budget that included an additional $30 million to address homelessness, $20 million for targeted housing development and funding to staff the department of housing.
“We must address the availability of quality housing,” McKee said. “That means everything from providing support to those experiencing homelessness to increasing affordable housing to ensuring we build workforce housing, middle class families and fair market housing.”
Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor agrees that this was a “smart and important package.” “When you take these streamlining bills and put them together with these financial measures, we are getting started in earnest,” Pryor added.
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