In RI, this is the third year in a row legislators are considering passing a broad bill allowing ADUs by right - this feels like it could and should be the year it passes. In MA, the Joint Committee on Housing is considering The Affordable Homes Act put forth at the end of 2023 by Governor Healey, which includes allowing ADUs by right throughout the Commonwealth.
What is an ADU?
An ADU is an “accessory dwelling unit”. This is a legal additional unit on an existing building that is a way to make use of unused or underused space and fill a housing need either for the homeowner or the community. ADUs are seeing a rise in popularity nation wide as states grapple with the ongoing and increasing housing supply shortage.
Why are ADUs being considered by legislators?
The low rate for new home construction in recent years has contributed to some of the lowest housing supply in history. Coupled with broad economic inflation, the housing shortage has forced rapid appreciation of rents and home prices, leaving nearly half of RI renter households and more than a quarter of RI homeowner households cost burdened, spending more than 30% of gross income on housing. By allowing the construction of ADUs by right, states can take advantage of existing unused spaces and let homeowners choose to add units to the housing market.
Why this could be important for you?
The country is starting to go through a historic wave of aging. The assisted living and senior housing market is booming. But imagine if senior homeowners could afford to age in place, or if families could have the freedom to build a small home for their loved ones right on their property without being forced to lose their investment in the long run. Or perhaps you are feeling burdened financially and could use additional income from a long term rental at your property. There are so many reasons people and communities will benefit from ADUs.
What would be the positive impact of a broad ADU bill passing?
The passing of a broad ADU bill with reasonable design requirements for safety, would spur the development of a significant number of housing units. It would give homeowners the ability to offer housing to aging family members or the community, or downsize within their own property and be able to afford to age in place. The additional supply in housing would be a great step forward in slowing the appreciation of rental prices. Not to mention the broad economic after-effects from the demand for design/construction professionals to increased dollars to local businesses, etc.
A) According to the 2023 RI Annual Integrated Housing Report, more than a quarter of RI homeowner households are spending 30% or more of their pretax income on housing. Being allowed the freedom to earn additional income from unused available space on their property would go a long way to easing their burden.
B) Boomers will need housing. Period. ADUs will allow them the option of either 1) moving into an ADU at a family members property and being able to live on the equity from selling their own home (we need people to sell more homes in order to have a healthy real estate market), 2) building an ADU at their own property to be able to rent out if income/expenses are the barrier to aging in place, 3) moving into their own ADU and renting their main house if they have no need for all the space and a new ADU could be built with specifications more suited for an older person.
C) Rents have increased over 25% while there have been essentially 0 new housing units added in RI over the past several years. It is no mystery the relationship between those two facts. People mistakenly blame the landlords and throw out tried and failed ideas like rent control. The bottom line is that the net increase in supply has been less than 0.5%. Most people can’t afford land. Tapping into space that already exists and people own would go a long way to significantly and rapidly increasing the housing supply and slowing the rent appreciation statewide.
What are the reasons existing ADU law isn’t adequate?
We regularly have clients interested in adding an accessory unit to their home. The problem is often the restrictions placed on the ADU. Currently in RI, you are able to build an ADU, however it is only supposed to be rented to an aging family member or disabled person, and when that person no longer needs it, the homeowner is expected to tear out the unit. Few homeowners are going to want to make the investment to build a legal unit up to code, and not see any long term benefit beyond the use of an aging or disable loved one. It simply doesn’t make any sense and does nothing to positively impact homeowners or the housing market in general.
We are strong advocates for ADUs here at DSA. We urge you to email or call your local representatives and show them you support the passage of bills making ADUs a by right project!
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David Sisson Architecture is a full-service, multi-disciplinary professional architecture firm based in East Providence, RI. We are licensed, registered, and insured architects in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York and Washington, providing both commercial architecture and residential architecture services. David Sisson Architecture specializes in multifamily housing development, adaptive reuse projects, historic preservation and commercial projects.
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