General Assembly considers “Granny Flats” proposal

Published in RINewsToday on April 24, 2023

By Herb Weiss

After AARP Rhode Island’s successful efforts to pass legislation last year, giving more flexibility to the types of structures and arrangements that would quality as accessory dwelling units (ADUs), during this year’s legislative session the state’s largest aging group is working closely with state lawmakers, aging and house groups to advance H 6082. Introduced by Rep. June Speakman (D-District 68, Bristol/Warren), the bill makes further improvements to enable more Rhode Islanders an opportunity to develop ADUs on their property. 

ADUs, sometimes called “in-law apartments” and “granny flats,” are accessories to existing housing, either as a conversion of part of a house (such as with a walkout basement), an attachment to a house or a smaller, detached dwelling. They have become increasingly popular around the nation in recent years as states and municipalities grapple with expanding the existing housing stock while preserving the feel of residential neighborhoods. Seniors, especially, have taken to ADUs as a way to downsize their living space while staying independent in the community.

H 6082 was written in collaboration with AARP Rhode Island, for whom increasing production of ADUs has been a primary policy goal for several years.

Encouraging the Construction of ADUs

H. 6082 would provide homeowners the right to develop an ADU on any lot larger than 20,000 square feet, provided that the design satisfies building code and infrastructure requirements. H 6082 would also provide homeowners on lots smaller than 20,000 square feet to construct an ADU within the existing footprint of the primary structure or existing secondary attached or detached structure that does not expand the footprint of the structure, provided that the design satisfies building code, size limits and infrastructure requirements.

The purpose of H. 6082 is to encourage the development of rental units that are likely to be affordable, and also provide opportunities for homeowners with extra space to generate income that helps them maintain ownership of that property.

To ensure that the bill achieves its goal of housing Rhode Islanders, the legislation prohibits ADUs constructed under this provision from being used as short-term rentals and streamlines the permitting process.  Speakman considers H 6082 to be a small but important part of the much broader effort that Rhode Island must adopt to encourage the development of affordable housing.

“Our housing crisis is very complex, and we must be creative and identify all the tools we can to create housing that makes the most of our resources. This particular bill removes some of the obstacles to building ADUs while respecting municipal land use policies,” says Speakman in a statement announcing her sponsorship of the ADU legislation.

“For many people, especially single people, and older adults, ADUs provide just enough space and could be a more affordable option than a larger, traditional apartment. For some, they might make it possible to stay in their neighborhood after downsizing from their own home, or they might be an opportunity to live in a neighborhood where apartments are scarce or are otherwise out of their price range,” notes Speakman, calling for more rental units.

“Accessory dwelling units are a great option to enable seniors to live at home independently and with dignity near their loved ones. They are also a very simple way to increase housing stock. Like several of the other pieces of legislation in the housing package I’ve put forward this year, this bill was developed based on feedback: in this case, from AARP, who made the ADU legislation one of their top priorities for this session,” stated House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-District 23, Warwick). “I am proud to support and co-sponsor this legislation because I know what a difference it will make for many seniors in Rhode Island to safely age in place,” he said.

Hearing puts spotlight on housing bills

On March 16th, the Municipal Government and Housing Committee held a hearing on H 6082, part of a 14-bill housing package had earlier in the month by Shekarchi to encourage housing production. The legislation in the package stems from the work of the House Commission to Study the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, which Speakman has led since its inception in 2021, and another commission studying all aspects of land use and development.

In her testimony, AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor stated that passing H 6082 would be a “great step forward” to improve the existing ADU legislation and to provide municipalities with guidance on how to apply the law in their locality.

ADUs can potentially improve the lives of seniors, caregivers, and people of all ages, too, says Taylor. According to AARP Rhode Island’s November 2021 Vital Voices survey over 54% of Rhode Islanders over age 45 would consider creating an ADU if the space was available.  In addition, a strong majority (84%) of Rhode Islanders aged 45 and over strongly or somewhat support town ordinances that makes it easier for property owners to create an ADU.

“Allowing ADUs by right where the proposed ADU is located within the existing footprint of the primary structure or existing secondary attached or detached structure and does not expand the footprint of the structure will provide the housing options and security that Rhode Island residents are looking for,” notes Taylor.

Warwick resident Keri-Lynn Edge and her husband contemplated building an addition on her property for her widowed mother who required constant care and assistance with activities of daily living. “Buying a home or condo, even if closer to us, would leave us in a similar predicament. It would take me away from my home to care for her and handle her affairs. So, an ADU seemed like the perfect solution,” she told the Committee. 

“Unfortunately, I am currently at a standstill with how to progress, and I am hopeful that this talk of ADUs comes to fruition,” says Edge, noting that the City of Warwick only allows one dwelling on a property and even though it is aware of H 6082 it won’t authorize building of ADUs until legislation is enacted.

In comments, retired Registered Nurse Timothy Tobin spoke of his long-standing plan to build an ADU on his daughter’s property in Bristol to live closer to her and his five grandchildren. Ultimately, he found out that in Rhode Island’s economic climate, specifically in his town, this project was too costly. “Between restrictive town and state building codes and very high prices for the actual building to comply with the codes, our dream is all but dashed,” he said.

RI Housing, the Housing NetworkRI Realtors, and the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Planning Association (offering comments to make the bill clear) submitted testimony supporting the expansion of ADUs. Governor Dan McKee, sending his blessing and support for the passage of H 6082, noted it will “clarify and noting that it will streamline permitting processes, standardize notice and advertising requirements, and incentivize creative ways to build more housing in Rhode Island.   

And RI AARP members sent dozens of emails from all corners of the state urging the Municipal Government and Housing Committee to pass the ADU legislative proposal, too.

Although there was no opposition at the committee hearing for the legislative proposal, the House GOP caucus supports the concept, but expressed concerns about its impact on Rhode Island communities.  “While ADUs have been a fabric of housing throughout Rhode Island including the rural districts that I represent, they bring with them some concerns that should not be overlooked,” says House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale (R-District 40, Foster, Glocester).” The current proposal can be modified into an effective tool to help combat the housing shortage, but it requires input from all of our municipalities – particularly those like the ones in my remote district,” he notes.

Chippendale says that this legislative proposal currently before the Assembly isn’t inherently bad, but it needs to consider the challenges it creates for all  39 municipalities. “For example – if there is not sufficient off-street parking, which this bill severely limits, towns like Foster, Glocester, Western Coventry and others can have problems. Issues such as snow plowing an already narrow roadway, the passage of large vehicles such as fire trucks, garbage trucks and others that can be impacted by cars parking on the roads.  Further, they can represent a drain on limited resources such as drinking water when more people are being allowed to draw from an existing aquifer that may already be operating under duress. The same applies to neighborhoods that have water districts with limited water supply,” he adds. 

Ultimately, no action was taken at the hearing, noted House Communications Director Larry Berman, noting that it’s the usual practice to receive input at the first hearing. “We expect a second hearing to be held in the coming weeks in which it will likely be voted on and moved to the full House for consideration,” he said.

According to Berman, the Senate has not yet duplicated this bill, but he anticipates that the upper chamber will before the end of the session in June. “It won’t be included in the budget because it doesn’t have a fiscal impact on the state,” he stated, noting .

Speakman has backing from House leadership.  In addition to Speaker Shekarchi, it is co-sponsored by Majority Whip Katherine Kazarian of East Providence, who is the number three ranking member in House leadership, and also by Chairman Stephen Casey of Woonsocket, who chairs the House Municipal Government and Housing Committee where the bill is the being considered.  Of course, Speakman chairs the House Commission on Low and Moderate Income Housing as well.

Other H 6082 cosponsors are: Rep. Megan Cotter (D-District 39, Exeter, Richmond); Rep. Jason Knight (D-District 67, Barrington; Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-District 69, Bristol and Portsmouth; Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-District 34, Narragansett, South Kingston); Rep. Cherie Cruz (D-District 58, Pawtucket); Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-District 72, Middletown, Portsmouth).

While the House mulls over Speakman’s legislative proposal, Smithfield just passed an ADU ordinance allowing property owners of single-family and multi-family homes to construct ADUs up to 900 square feet.  Other communities might consider following this community’s lead. 

With strong support of House Democratic caucus and no fiscal impact on the state coffers, there’s a very good chance that H 6082 might just make it to the legislative finish line.  Now it is time for the Senate to quickly act and pass a companion measure.  Expanding ADUs in every Rhode Island community is sound housing policy that will provide access to much needed housing. It’s the right thing to do.  


“Secure Choice” will help saving for retirement

Published in RINewsToday on February 20, 2023

Most Rhode Islanders save for retirement through an employer-based plan such as a pension or 401(k). But 172,000 Rhode Island workers (roughly 40 percent of the state’s workforce) do not have access to this crucial savings tool. At a Feb. 14, 2023 press conference held at the State Library, Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Pawtucket, Providence) and Rep. Evan Shanley (D-Warwick, East Greenwich) were joined by General Treasurer James A. Diossa, and advocates calling for a policy fix by enacting a program called “Secure Choice.” These advocates were invited to publicly give their support: Catherine Taylor, State Director of AARP Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Black Business Association, Progreso Latino and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

During early February, S 0089 and H 5417 were introduced by Sen. Meghan Kallman (D-Pawtucket, Providence) and Rep. Shanley (D-Warwick, East Greenwich) to allow employees to take their savings with them when they change jobs.  The Senate and House proposals were referred to the Senate Finance and House Committees in their respective chambers. 

At press time, Kallman withdrew S 0089 to redraft it to match the House version.  It will be reintroduced after Feb. 28 when the Rhode Island lawmakers come back from recess. At this time, the General Assembly’s House and Senate GOP caucus have no position on these legislative proposals.  

“It’s in everyone’s interest to help workers save for retirement,” said Kallman, the press conference announcing the introduction of the Secure Choice legislative proposals. “The evidence is really clear: giving workers access to pre-tax payroll deductions is the best way to encourage retirement savings. And having those savings is a big part of being able to live a comfortable and healthy retirement, which is what we want for everyone in our community,” she said.

“When I talk to small businesses in my community, they really care about their staff and want their workers to be able to save for retirement,” said Shanley, primary sponsor of the House companion measure. “But small business owners can’t be experts in everything and often don’t know where to start with offering retirement savings. This bill gives them a way to support their workers and gives workers a chance to save,” he says.

“Too many employees across the state are working day and night without the assurance of a solid financial future,” said Treasurer Diossa. “By providing workers with an optional retirement plan, the Secure Choice Act is a prime example of how government can improve the lives of workers. We must fulfill the fundamental promise that a lifetime of hard work will be met with a retirement of dignity and security.”

 Taking a Look at the Nuts and Bolts

“Most Rhode Island workers hope to retire someday,” said Catherine Taylor, State Director of AARP RI in supporting the passage of the Secure Choice legislative proposals that tie nicely into AARP’s mission to “empower people to choose how we live as we age.”  

According to Taylor, Secure Choice provides a “simple and easy way to save to the over 172,000 private sector employees in Rhode Island who currently do not have access to a way to save through their work.” That is about 40 percent of Rhode Island’s private sector workers, she says, noting that this percentage includes workers at all levels of earnings, education, and backgrounds.

“All of them would benefit from the ability to use payroll deduction to save for retirement. People are 15 times more likely to save if it can be done out of their regular paycheck. 20 times more likely if this can be done automatically,” she added, stressing that this program would be easy for employees of Rhode Island’s small businesses to participate in. It’s also free for employers.

At last Tuesday’s press conference, Taylor noted that AARP’s mission is to “empower people to choose how we live as we age.”  

“Saving for retirement is critical because those savings mean financial resilience and empowerment for older Rhode Islanders. Many older Rhode Islanders who did not save for retirement are living solely off Social Security and have few options as to where and how they age. For older Rhode Islanders to thrive it is important to have access to a simple and easy way to save for retirement during our working years,” says Taylor.

Taylor states that passage of Secure Choice will give all workers the chance to begin saving for their retirement, giving them a way to retire with more security. 

By the numbers…

In May 2022 AARP Rhode Island surveyed 502 small Rhode Island businesses and the results showed that 72 percent of these small business owners were supportive of a privately managed, ready-to-go retirement savings option that would help them offer employees a way to save for retirement. The study, released on July 2022, found that 81 percent – – of the respondents agreed that the lawmakers should pass a bill to make it easier for small business owners to access a retirement savings option for their employees and themselves.

“Secure Choice is all about choice and control. It is voluntary for employees: how much you save, if at all, is entirely up to you, as are the investments you choose. Employers need only pass on information from the program and add a payroll deduction option, says AARP’s Taylor, stressing that they can open an alternative plan of their choosing at any time.

Taylor notes that Sixteen states have enacted similar programs. Eight of those programs are open for business and have over 634,000 funded accounts and $662 million in assets under management as of December. Over 30 states recently acted to study program options or consider legislation., she said.

Legislative proposals to create a Secure Choice program were introduced in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.  During this legislative session, now is the time for lawmakers to push the legislative proposal to the goal line for passage. 

Taylor sees a positive impact on the state’s budget if the Secure Choice is passed and signed into law by Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee.  “When more people save for retirement, it decreases reliance on public assistance, having an enormously positive effect on the state’s balance sheet,” she said stressing that it’s sound fiscal policy for state. AARP Rhode Island will be releasing a fiscal impact analysis on Feb. 28, that is being prepared by The Pew Charitable Trusts.  Stay tuned.  

A broad coalition of aging advocacy groups from across the state support Secure Choice, including AARP Rhode Island, the Latino Policy Institute, SEIU, Progreso Latino, Working Families Party, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Economic Policy Institute, and the Rhode Island Black Business Association.

To watch the Secure Choice Press Conference, held on Feb. 14, 2023, go to

To read Aug. 2022 Fact Sheet: Rhode Island detailing the benefits of enacting enabling Rhode Islanders to save for their retirement, go to

To read AARP Director Catherine Taylor’s Op Ed, “We Need Secure Choice”, go to

Advocates on aging issues review their priorities for Gov. McKee’s policy agenda

Published in RINewsToday on Nov. 14, 2022

Over 3 months ago, the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island (SACRI) invited the six Gubernatorial candidates to give the details of their aging policy positions to hundreds gathering at East Providence High School, and watching virtually. With the dust settling after the Nov. 8 midterm elections, aging advocates are asking the winner, Gov. Dan McKee, to place a high priority on enacting aging policies that he supported during SACRI’s 143-minute forum.

McKee goes on the record

McKee addressed the issue that Rhode Island nursing home and home care providers can’t provide sufficient and sustainable wages to attract and retain workers because of low state reimbursement. When questioned about how he would rebuild and sustain a viable workforce to provide services to seniors and persons with disabilities, the Governor stated he has addressed staffing issues at home health agencies and nursing homes by expanding the Wavemaker Fellowships to include healthcare workers and increasing reimbursement rates for home health agencies by $900,000 annually.

More seniors prefer to age in place at home in their community rather then enter nursing homes. McKee gave his thoughts about Medicaid rebalancing and expanding the program to keep seniors at home. He touted the $10 million invested this year to rebalance the long-term care continuum, announcing his plans to soon issue an Executive Order to direct state agencies to review existing policies through

At the forum, McKee stated he will also direct all state agencies to appoint a representative to a task force, also including municipalities and community-based nonprofits, that will create a Statewide Aging Plan to determine where federal monies and grants can be utilized to support older Rhode Islanders.

During the mid-1990s the Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA) had a staff of 65. Demoted to the Office of Healthy Aging within the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. McKee went on record that he will support legislation next year to make the state’s Office of Healthy Aging a full cabinet department. He pledged to provide an adequate budget and staffing to oversee its programs and services to Rhode Island’s growing senior population.   

Gov. McKee also supported a yearly cost-of-living increase to the state Supplemental Security Income payment in the 2024 proposed budget. He also supported the increasing of eligibility for the Medicaid Savings Programs for seniors and people with disabilities in the proposed 2024 budget by eliminating the asset test and increasing eligibility to at least 185% Federal Policy Level. 

With the state passing $250 million in funding for housing, Gov. McKee agreed to provide an adequate amount to support senior housing.  He stated: “we’re off and running”, noting that he recently announced an investment of $80 million to construct 825 units in 17 communities.  The Governor noted that his 2030 plan speaks specifically on the issue of senior housing.

Make aging policy a priority

“With the growing needs of seniors throughout the country and within our state it is time to return to a function of government which “had teeth” to enact change for elders who were at risk,” says Bob Robillard, LMHC, President of Rhode Island Senior Center Directors Association, representing 34 Senior Centers, noting that his aging group is pushing for the passage of bipartisan legislation next session that will elevate the Office of Healthy Aging to a full department – cabinet – status. 

According to Robillard, having a seat at the table as a cabinet position, the Director would directly advocate with the Governor’s Office to address unmet needs and seek creative solutions for our seniors. 

Robillard also urged the Governor to continue efforts to develop secure and affordable housing that meets the need for increased  homelessness of Rhode Island seniors. ”Their income level and having to make difficult choices to survive each month is seen in our interactions with seniors every day, and they are increasingly utilizing food banks, emergency services, and our centers, and funding these basic services needs to be a top priority,” he says.

While some federal funds have been used to address this issue, Robillard says there is a “global need for a full and comprehensive Aging Plan for Rhode Island including the voices of direct service providers like the Senior Centers, senior advocates, caregivers and, of course, seniors, themselves.” 

Finally, Robillard believes that there should be a strong focus on transportation for seniors to access their community. “Safe, respectful and person-centered transportation in our rural areas throughout our state needs to be a focus,” he says, noting that if you cannot access your community in these ways then you cannot participate in them either.

With Rhode Island experiencing a critical shortage of homecare workers, Maureen Maigret, chair of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Aging in Community Subcommittee, calls on Gov. McKee to provide funding in the FY2024 budget to increase wages for CNAs working in home care. “The current budget includes $10 million to rebalance long term care. These funds should be used for wage increases for homecare direct care staff as an initial step to bring these invaluable workers fair wages,” says Maigret.

“It is also important to provide more resources to the Office of Healthy Aging and support for local senior services. Governor McKee started to increase funds for local aging services in the current budget and the Office of Healthy Aging has requested funding to provide each community ten dollars per person aged sixty-five and over next year,” adds Maigret, urging the Governor to include this in the budget he presents to the legislature for FY2024 as well as other funding requested by the Office including $.5million to support the state’s Aging and Disability Resource Center known as THE POINT. 

Gerontologist Deb Burton calls for the Governor to move forward to pass an Olmstead Plan to create opportunities for individuals to live in the least restrictive environments. “The Olmstead Plan would fit hand in glove with providing resources for individuals to age in the community, and not in institutions,” says Burton, who serves as Executive Director of RI Elder Info.  

Finally, Vincent Marzullo, well-known aging advocate who served as a federal civil rights and national service administrator, suggests that McKee direct the RI Commission for National/Community Service to identify AmeriCorps (national service) opportunities that would help build capacity and service delivery for our local senior centers and human services offices.  “Their needs have grown considerably during COVID,” says the West Warwick resident.

Editor’s Note: During the COVID weekly press conference time, Gov. Raimondo noted that changes need to be made in how people live in Rhode Island’s nursing homes, both from a communicable disease point of view, and from a humanity point of view. She announced a fund of $5 million to be put aside to support nursing homes transitioning their physical “plants” to be single room – single bathroom accommodations. Since Raimondo left office, there has been acknowledgement that this fund was set aside, but no action taken to address the mandate moving forward.